Get Up Running – Kerry

I recently just “met” Kerry through another friend of mine, Michele, who has had breast cancer and runs races.   I am meeting a lot of women who’ve had breast cancer and who are also runners – awesome!  Anyway, here’s Kerry’s story.

Name: Kerry

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Type of cancer and treatment:

Dx Oct 2008 @ 42 yrs, IDC, Stage IIIa, Grade 3   [ed note: breast cancer, for those who don’t know what IDC means – invasive ductal carcinoma]
Right Mx, no recon
FEC-T x 6
25 rads
Tamoxifen
Ooph
Arimidex (still taking)
3 years of Zometa, 2 x a year

Were you a runner before cancer?

No. I was always really active; I walked everywhere, hiked, canoed, gardened, etc, but hadn’t run since high school.

While I was in the middle of chemo, I decided I wanted to work hard at getting physically strong after I was done. Running seemed like an obvious choice. Chemo hit me quite hard. FEC made me throw up, and Taxotere gave me terrible bone pain, from which I was basically bedridden for a couple of days each round. I remember lying in bed feeling so terrible, so weak, and just wishing that I could feel strong again. I ended up hospitalized after my 5th round of Chemo (febrile neutropenia) and remember being taken from the ER up to a ward. There I was in a hospital gown, bald, IV pole, in a wheelchair, and I’ll never forget the look of pity and fear on the faces of people we passed. I never wanted people to look at me that way again.

I also did a lot of research about what I could do to increase my odds of survival, and time and time again I read that exercise would lower my risk of recurrence. It seemed like a no – brainer to prioritize exercise after active treatment ended.

I am also on an AI, one of the most common side effects is joint pain. I read one of the best ways to prevent this is, again, exercise. I do feel a difference in my body if I go a couple of days without running. I went through early menopause right after radiation, when I had my ovaries removed. I hope that running helps counter some of the negative long term cardiac effects of that, and some of the long term effects of chemo.

Did you run during treatment? How long after did you take it up?

I didn’t start running until after treatment ended. I walked during chemo, as much as I could, which towards the end was often just walking my kids to school and back. After chemo I started walking longer distances, and about 6 months after I finished up everything I started running a bit. (I live in Canada and had to wait for the snow to melt) I started off running small distances during my walks, and slowly increased how much I ran, until I was comfortably running 3 miles at a time. On a whim I decided to try and run 6 miles, which I did! Not long after that I decided to train for a half marathon, and about 7 months after starting running, (about 2 years after diagnosis) I ran my first half marathon. I have since run 2 more half marathons, and next month will run my 4th full marathon.

How has running helped you during and/or after treatment, both physically and mentally.

Physically and mentally it has made me so much stronger. I truly think running is saving my life, and my sanity.  I came out of treatment with some extra steroid weight, feeling pretty weak and hammered by everything. Emotionally I felt quite vulnerable, it is such a shocking thing to happen, and I was not particularly hopeful about my long term survival. I think that when you are in the midst of active treatment you are in fight mode, but afterwards I think running gave me something positive to focus on, like I was still doing something to fight the cancer.

I also think that having gone through some pretty aggressive treatment, that cancer has helped me as a runner. I have often thought during a hard run, if I can get through chemo, I can get through this. I think it has given me the strength to not quit when the going gets tough.

What did your doctor say about your running?

My onc says it’s the reason I am doing so well. He is totally supportive.

What is your biggest challenge running after cancer?

Ha, well, I didn’t have recon, and sweat and a silicone prosthesis don’t mix! I had a couple of near embarrassing situations before switching to a foam prosthesis. It makes me look a bit lopsided if you looked closely, but I really don’t care.

I have had bursitis twice in my heels which I blame (possibly unfairly) on Arimidex.

I also have had occasional hand lymphedema after very long runs.

What would you say to someone just out of treatment who may be intimidated to take up running?

Well, I would say to start slow. You don’t have to be out running marathons. There is a huge benefit of just exercising for 30 minutes a day. Consistency is the most important thing. Start out with an easy, non-threatening plan, something like couch to 5k. Don’t worry about speed, don’t be afraid to walk. Just get out there and do something. Think of exercise as a key part of your treatment plan, the survival benefit is similar to chemo. And it’s far more fun 😉

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Get Up Running – Marjie

Welcome to the inaugural post for what I hope can become an inspirational series about running during and/or after cancer – Get Up Running.  This should go without saying but if you’re recovering from cancer and want to start running, clear everything with your doctors beforehand.

My first friend to respond to my inquiry was Marjie from Pink and Pearls.  This woman has the kindest soul I have ever encountered, and I am so privileged to count her as a friend.

Name: Marjorie Miller

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Type of cancer & your treatment: 

Breast cancer; surgery (I also had childhood Leukemia at the age of 12, and for that, three years of chemotherapy).

Were you a runner before cancer or any other sports before cancer?

I ran my first 5K literally the same day I found a breast lump. (race that morning, found the lump in the shower that afternoon). I started running a few months before diagnosis, but was never a runner before cancer.

Did you run during treatment? If no, how long after treatment ended did you take up running?

Yes, I tried to run in between surgeries. I had six total surgeries, including a double mastectomy with reconstruction and lat flap. After each surgery when I got the go-ahead from my doctor to resume physical activity, I attempted to run again. It didn’t always happen with the expanders but I tried.

How has running helped you during and/or after treatment, both physically and mentally?

Mentally it helps me feel like I have control over my body again. It helps me feel in control of my health and my life. Breast cancer took my breasts but it can’t take what I do with my body, which is running. When I run it’s just me and my body; I have complete control. I take myself as far as I want. I push myself as much as I can. Nobody else gets a say when I lace up my sneakers. Physically it’s made me stronger and healthier. It gives me so much self confidence. It gives me energy, helps me deal with stress and anxiety, and I feel it keeps me sane 😉

What did your doctor/doctors say about you running?

They applaud it and encourage it.

What has big your biggest challenge running after cancer?

Being comfortable with the implants. My chest still feels tight and I am still regaining muscles under my chest wall. Running sometimes hurts and pulls at my chest.

What would you say to someone ending treatment or just out of treatment who might be intimidated to take up running?

Take it slowly. Take it one day at a time. Start with what YOU feel comfortable doing. Remember: when you run, you run for you and nobody else. My husband said to me before my first 10 miler a few weeks ago: “Just run YOUR race.”

You’re only running for yourself. Not to impress anyone else. Start with walking, slow jogging, taking breaks, whatever you need. You’ll find with time your energy and stamina will grow. Your confidence will grow. It does get easier and the more you do it, the more you love it.

Run happy!

run

Another 11 miles

I did.  I ran another 11 miles.  Double-freaking-digits.  While this is my second double-digit run, this run was even more significant due to the fact that I have been a sickie again, living in Purgatory health.  For the last four to five weeks, I have been fighting off one illness after another.   It started off as a cold, then I had a stomach virus that completely wiped me out, then a sinus infection.  The Boyfriend has been sick, and then it seems I get it, and then so on.  Unfortunately, he has seemingly been hit harder than me with all these illnesses, and I’ve been bouncing back, while he has been splat on the ground.

Training during a period of time where you just want to lay down, curl up with a pair of crazy mutts, and watch bad reality television is challenging.  I want to run.  I want to go to yoga and get my stretch on, gurrrl.  The idea of resting when I’m so close to the half marathon?  No, I can’t!  I rested for two years, and I’m tired of resting.

I ended up listening to my training group’s advice to give it a rest.  Illness and training do not go hand in hand.  More like hand-to-hand combat.  The couple of times I tried to run when under the weather yielded terrible results.  When I went to yoga even though I couldn’t breathe out of my nose, horrible idea.  Finally, I threw my hands up, went to the doctor to get some much-needed antibiotics, and didn’t run for more than a week.

Today was my first long run in two weeks, and I felt pretty great until mile 9 when the IT band pain hit again.  Since I had two miles to go, I wasn’t going to quit.  Those two miles were tougher than the first 9 (I can’t believe I actually wrote that sentence).  When my watch beeped at the 11 mile mark, I resisted the urge to yell, “YES!”  I was also secretly overjoyed that one of my mentors said I was a “strong” runner.  SOMEONE CALLED ME STRONG AND IT HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH HAVING HAD CANCER.

I wish I could spread the message to other people who just finished cancer treatment that they, too, can run.  (Of course, always get a “go-ahead” from their oncologist.)  I haven’t even been running for a year, like 9 months, and I’m weeks away from running 13.1 miles.  I’m not an athlete and well, have never been athletic.  It’s like all my surgeries and treatment have flipped a switch in me.  I know what it’s like to feel like you’re choking to death, or so sick and in pain that you have to have help walking up stairs, or so zapped of energy that you can barely get out of bed.  I have been pushed to my limits during cancer treatment.

Now I am being pushed to my limits but in a so much better way.

To the Nurse Practitioner at St. Clair Hospital,

Remember me?  I am the woman who came to be with her boyfriend, a stubborn man who would rather be anywhere else in the world except a hospital, and you dismissed the two of us like a pair of hypochondriacs.  I have never encountered a nurse, doctor or nurse practitioner as rude, condescending and dismissive as you were today.  I am a professional sickie, and I encounter nurses and doctors all the time.  You, whoever you were, were insufferable and rude.

A grown man, who until recently has been the picture of decent health, came in and said he had been sick for going on three months and hasn’t been able to fight any virus or infection in the last couple of months.  He said he has been light headed and have been feeling pain in his shoulders and lower back.  He told you that he has been to a doctor as well as urgent care in the previous month, and he keeps getting worse.  What do you do?  You order a chest xray, a flu swab and a CT of his sinuses.  When all of that came back clear, you came in and had absolutely no patience at all with any follow up questions.

Why are you in the healthcare field, which involves helping people, if you’re such a bitch?  I was not being rude at all.  I was being a concerned loved one for someone who has been sick for months.  You talked down to me, even talking to me SLOWER like I am learning impaired.

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I have never been so angry and furious in recent years.  My sick loved one came to get help, answers, and you behaved as if he was overreacting, like apparently it is NORMAL to be sick for weeks on end?  That’s not normal.  This is not normal.  He should be able to get better, and he has been consistently sick for a long time.

Commenting that you thought I wasn’t understanding what you were saying was rude, condescending and awful.  The look you interpreted as not understanding words, as if I am learning impaired, was the look of a girlfriend who wanted to launch out of her chair and beat you senseless.  You made someone I love and care about feel hopeless and upset, and hours later, I am wondering why someone like you is dealing with sick people if you hate people so much.

Worst worst patient care I have witnessed.  Congrats, St. Clair.  I’ll make sure to never visit your hospital.  I’ll keep my sickie ailments to Allegheny Health System.

My grandmothers

In my life, I have had three grandmothers.  When friends my age talk about visiting their grandparents, I feel a slight twinge of jealously.  My last grandparent died when I was in my early 20s, just barely into adulthood.  I’ve been thinking about each of these women and the roles and impact they had on my life.

Grandma

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This is my father’s mother, who my brothers and I just called Grandma.  She died when I was in my early 20s, so I luckily I have more solid memories of her.  Grandma wasn’t a very emotional person.  I don’t remember her being  excited or angry or any extreme emotion.   Whenever we visited her, Grandma never sat down and ate with us.  She stayed in the kitchen, and she was ready if you needed seconds or more tea or water.

Grandma was always there for my brothers and I growing up.  She showed up to graduations, confirmations, weddings, whatever she could.  She sent birthday cards and Christmas cards.  Grandma was there.  When my mother died of metastatic breast cancer, Grandma came up and helped take care of my brothers and me.  While she was not an emotionally demonstrative woman, I always knew that she cared and loved us because she was there.  She is why I believe that if you care, you show up.  If it’s not in person, you call or send a card.  You show up.

Granny

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This was my mother’s mother, who my brothers and I called Granny.  She died of lung cancer when I was three, maybe four, years old.  I have two very faint memories of Granny.  I’m not even sure if they are memories, maybe snippets.  Granny was the only one who called me Lolly, and when she died, that nickname died with her.   The other thing I remember about Granny was her gravelly, low voice, which said to me, “Give me some sugar, Lolly.”  No lie, she is the reason why I never wanted to smoke or became a smoker.  Her voice scared me as a child, and that fear never left me in middle school and high school when my classmates began smoking in secret.

However, Granny wasn’t just a cautionary tale for me.   I’ve gone through old photos of her, Papa and my mother probably hundreds of time.  Plus, my father has  been a historian of my mother’s side of the family, and he’s told me so many stories of her and my mothers side of the family.  Granny comes across as stoic and proper, like she would have been that old-fashioned Southern stereotype you see and hear about.   Beautiful and strong – I bet nobody messed with her, like I know nobody messed with my mother.  (Maybe I’m like them both?)  A couple of years ago, my dad gave me a huge pile of letters that Granny wrote to my mother and father in the 1970s.  It’s so neat that I have tangible evidence of my grandmother’s love for her daughter.

Nana

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Nana, my stepmother’s mother, was an amazing woman.  Hands down, the absolute best.  I couldn’t, nor would I ever, say a bad thing about this woman.  When Nana came to visit, she would ask everyone what their favorite meal and/or dessert was, and then she would make it for you.  Whenever I’ve talked about Nana in recent years, I’ve joked that when Nana came to town, everyone in the house would gain about five pounds.  I used to spend hours in the kitchen with her as she baked dozens of cookies, and she would talk about whatever you wanted.  Nana was silly and joked about silly things, calling her bra “an over the shoulder boulder holder.”  Nana would also listen to you, and you always knew she cared.

The thing I loved most about Nana was that I never felt like a step-granddaughter to her, just family.  She made me feel included and important.  When she passed away, the world lost a wonderful light.  Whenever I bake cookies or cupcakes in my kitchen, I think back to the time I spent with her in the kitchen.  I like to think she’s in the kitchen with me, smiling and telling stories.

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I am very proud of the fact that I come from a line of strong and loyal women, like Grandma and Granny.  I also feel blessed that Nana considered me a part of her family.   Like I feel about my mother, I hope that I am making these three amazing women proud.