Thanksgiving

I’ll be traveling most of the week and won’t be blogging. But, I wanted to make a quick update. I finished the third week of Couch to 5K yesterday. My workout was a 5 minute “brisk walk” follow by 2 reps of:

90 sec jog
90 sec walk
3 min jog
3 min walk
5 min warm down

Its pretty awesome feeling these workouts go from being borderline impossible the first day, to feeling at least okay on the third day. Which brings me to the topic of this post. Thursday is Thanksgiving and I wanted to spend some time discussing what I feel thankful for.

I’m thankful …
That I’m in a place where I can do C25K a month after ending treatment. So many people have much worse physical wounds from their treatments.
That I have such an amazing and selfless family.
For my job.
For my education.
For my amazing friends.
For my church family.
For TRICARE.
For the generosity of others.
For organizations like LIVESTRONG that advocate for cancer patients
For modern medicine.
For food (especially fresh foods since I had to abstain from them during treatment)
For hot showers.
For God’s love.
For modern appliances.
For being able to use a real razor.
For audiobooks.
For my car.
For modern technology in general (seriously, where would I be without my refrigerator?)
For the traveling I’ve done and will do.
For living in Austin, it’s a pretty awesome place.
For this blog.

Most of all I’m thankful to be alive, and that I have many many more Thanksgivings to be thankful for!

Inspirational Individuals on the Ides (ish) of November

So I had this whole idea for a regular monthly blog topic called Inspirational Individuals on the Ides (I^3). I totally thought the 15th was the “ides” of every month and apparently that’s not quite the case. You can find a neat little history lesson on how the ides of months are determined here. (And yes, I do know I sound like a dork. And no, I don’t care.)

I was being interviewed for the Manship School of Mass Communication’s (my alma mater) website a few days ago and one of the questions was “why did you decide to start the blog.” Part of it was to keep my friends & family in others state updated on what was happening regarding my cancer diagnosis. But I had already established a private blog that I could use for that purpose. I really just had this inner drive to document what was happening to me because I know as someone waiting to be (or newly) diagnosed, I was scoring the internet for any information of what other people in my situation had been through. For example, I wanted to make sure that any other army spouses out there trying to get TRICARE to pay for a wig could learn from my experience and avoid some of the pitfalls I encountered. For another, I really had no idea what to expect from radiation. No one told me I was going to have to be tattooed ahead of time, or that I’d have to wear a mask and stay absolutely stationary for long periods of time. I knew all of that because of the blogosphere and other people’s experiences, so I was prepared, but those issues easily could have thrown me through a loop. Knowing how much I benefitted from blogs in the days leading up to my diagnosis, made the decision to blog very natural.

I think another major influence is the fact that I have grown up and come of age in a time when so many inspiring individuals have bravely discussed their illnesses or disabilities very publicly in order to raise awareness and research funds, and to empower and educate others. I’ve already talked about quite of few of these individuals: Robin Roberts, Scott Hamilton, Lance Armstrong, Michael Douglas, Shannon Miller, etc. I’m sure I’ll spotlight quite a few of these characters and other well-known people in the future. But this month I want to take a few minutes to spotlight someone who did not grow up in a time when people were very vocal about their illnesses. When people couldn’t find information through a Google search. Survivorship issues didn’t really exist because most people didn’t survive. She was not wealthy or famous. In fact, her real name wasn’t even known for many years. She was instead referred to by the first two letters of her first and last name.

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November’s Inspirational Individual on the Ides is Henrietta Lacks. I first heard about Henrietta Lacks at the September meeting of BAG (Books are Glorious) Ladies, my monthly book club. We were trying to decide what books to read in the upcoming months and someone suggested “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Sloot for November. As she was explaining the book to me I was immediately hooked.

Henrietta Lacks was a 30 year old African American woman and mother of five who was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 1951. She received medical care at a free clinic at Johns Hopkins. While she was unconscious for a procedure, they took two samples of her cervix, from both the healthy and affected areas. A physician at Johns Hopkins, George Otto Gey, used samples from the people that were brought into the free clinic regularly for medical research. It was not legally necessary at that time to ask living patients for their consent for these procedures, and it is unknown whether Henrietta ever knew the samples were taken. What is known, is that Henrietta forever changed the medical community.

Although Henrietta died from her cancer a mere eight months after this procedure, many of her cervical cancer cells are still alive today in the form of HeLa, the first ever line of immortal human cells. Since then, her cells have helped cure polio, create new cancer treatments, determine the number of human chromosomes, and countless other medical advancements. They even went into space to test the effects of zero gravity on human cells before any human made the journey. Before HeLa, scientists had no way to safely test human tissue. Her contribution to medicine and science is truly invaluable. And yet she lived in a time when African Americans were segregated in hospitals. When she had only one hospital to go to period, because it was the only one that served African Americans in her area. When even blood donations were segregated by race. Her surviving family never received any financial compensation for HeLa from the medical community. They couldn’t even afford the medical advancements the HeLa cell’s generated.

Just recently, Rebecca Skloot author of “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” has set up The Henrietta Lacks Foundation to help Henrietta’s descendants and others who have made contributions to medical research without financial gain of their own.

Henrietta, I want to say “thank you!” Thank you so much for your contribution to science. I have personally benefitted from it tremendously. Your cells helped develop and improve effective chemotherapy and radiation therapy treatments which saved my life. They also helped develop invitro fertilization, which has created four embryos that might one day be my children. Thank you thank you thank you from the bottom of my heart. I can’t imagine how scary things were for you. I’m so sorry that you were not fortunate enough to live in 2012 and benefit from the resources and research that I do because of you and others like you. I truly owe you my life.

You have given so many people the happy ending you so rightfully deserved.

Light the Night

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Annual Light the Night fundraiser was on last Saturday on Nov. 3! As you might recall from my post 2/3 of the way through! several members of my Army family surprised me with a “Team Laura” night back in July. They had “Geaux Team Laura” t-shirts made and showed up at one of our favorite BBQ restaurants called The Salt Lick. Another way they showed their support was by creating a Geaux Team Laura team for Austin’s Light the Night. I’m so happy and proud to report that we exceeded our fundraising goal by more than $400! The event itself raised more than $830,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and I am so proud to have been a part of this amazing effort. I can’t wait to attend next year, and I hope to be further involved now that I have more time for living vs. surviving.

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Team Laura repping at Light the Night 2012 at Lake Mueller Park in Austin.

The Light the Night volunteers gave everyone balloons to symbolize their role of support at the walk. I was given a white balloon to show that I was a survivor. The others were given red balloons to show that they were supporters. Others were given gold balloons to show that they were walking in memory of someone who had passed away from blood cancer. I’m so thankful that I’m still here today to walk in these events and speak publicly about my illness. Seeing all the gold balloons brought home the fact that so many people are not here to do that for themselves.

Along with my Army family, some truly amazing friends of mine from Louisiana are also living in Austin and walked with us as well. They have been such a major part of my life and I don’t know where I would be without them.

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From left to right: My “homegirls” Megan, me and Britni at Light the Night 2012.

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My hubby and self-dubbed “personal trainer,” Rene, was a front-row supporter at Light the Night as well.

Speaking of training, on Sunday I finished the second week of Couch to 5K! The second week work outs consisted of a 5 minute walk, followed by alternating intervals of 90 second runs and 2 minute walks, along with a 5 minute cool down walk. As I mentioned in my last entry, I’d been thinking about what I wanted my goal fitness goals to be beyond completing a 5K sometime around the New Year.

This past weekend, I did something a little crazy. I signed up for the Inaugural Nike Women’s Half-Marathon in Washington, D.C. to benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. I think its pretty rad that my first race will be the first year that the race will be held in D.C. Along with being our nation’s capital, it’s also one of my favorite cities and home to many of my amazing friends. The run will take place on April 28, 2013, which is significant to me for a couple of reasons. It’s the weekend after my 26th birthday. It also falls in between the first anniversaries of when I went into the ER for chest pain (April 20), and when I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s (May 11). It’s very fitting that I’ll get to celebrate both my birth and survival by running to raise awareness and funds to fight blood cancers! If you’re interested in helping me reach my goal, please visit my fundraising page.

Along with the excitement, I’m also scared as well! Even before I had cancer, I never ran that far in my life. I certainly have never committed to fundraising that much money as an individual before either! That being said though, after doing a lot of research and soul searching, I just know in my heart that this is the right time, the right race and the right cause for me. I can do this and I know I will feel amazing for it! Cancer has definitely shown me that there’s no time like the present to get busy living.

To my feet

“Cancer didn’t bring me to my knees, it brought me to my feet. I stand tonight because I want to be part of this effort to find an end to cancer. This is possible.”

I recently saw this Michael Douglas quote from September’s Stand Up to Cancer event and was floored. This really embodies what I’ve been feeling in so many ways. I just want to do more, say more, put my story out there more. I just have this drive. I’m not quite sure where its taking me yet, but I know its going somewhere!

Cancer has quite literally brought me to my feet. This Saturday is the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Light the Night Walk. My friends and family put together a “Team Laura” for the event and I’m super excited that I’ll be able to participate. The timing was perfect for me to attend and also feel good walking the 1.5 miles. We are extremely close to our fundraising goal and would love to smash it, so please consider donating to our team at http://pages.lightthenight.org/sctx/AustinL12/TeamLaura.

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BuildASign.com donated free banners to Light the Night teams and I got to pick mine up today!

I was so excited. I already love this organization because of their Troops program, and now I love them even more.

I’m also becoming much more focused on fitness. The whole year leading up to my cancer diagnosis I had been trying to get in shape. I worked out with a trainer for several months and had just started CrossFit when I received my diagnosis.  I never saw a ton of results and it was very frustrating. Knowing I had cancer now, I can understand a lot of my struggles better. I sadly didn’t work out at all while I dealt with cancer, and I’m definitely paying for it now.

When I was in treatment there was this huge focus on me NOT losing weight. Losing weight was bad. Since I had random dietary restrictions, like no raw vegetables or fruit, it was really easy to fall into poor eating habits. My doctors also took the “eat what you can, when you can” approach. So I did. And sometimes what I “could” eat was not extremely healthy. Coupled with never exercising,  I gained about 10-15 pounds. This seems to be a running theme with my other “cancer friends” as well. I don’t know if its mainly an issue because we’re young adults or not, but it wasn’t really something I had on my radar in treatment, so the pounds snuck up on me.

However, this whole experience has taught me to seize the day. And that’s just what I’m planning to do. This week I started Couch to 5k, using the ZenLabs iPhone app. I’m very lucky to have a few friends that do long distance races and triathalons, so they’ve been giving me lots of tips and advice. You can follow my friend and fellow Army spouse Maddie at Food, Fitness & Family for some great fitness and nutrition tips. It’s nice to know I won’t be alone in this journey! My husband, Rene, has also dubbed himself my “trainer.” As a soldier and athlete, he far surpasses me when it comes tofitness, but its been really nice sharing this interest with. It’s also nice that I have someone there to hold the iPhone and handle the dog so I can focus on my “running.”

For those of you not familiar with Couch to 5k training programs, its basically a  schedule that guides you to building up your endurance by alternating walking and running. Eventually you do less walking and more running until you can run a 5K. There’s several different programs and apps out there that accomplish the same goal: going from not running at all to doing a 5K in 8 or 9 weeks. This week’s workout for the program I chose was a 5 minute walking warm up, followed by alternating 1 minute of walking and 90 seconds of jogging for a total of 20 minutes, followed by a 5 minute walking warm down. In conjunction with my twice weekly LIVESTRONG workouts, I’ve been quite sore. But I also feel amazing. I’m hoping the hard work pays off.

I plan to update with my measurements on the first of the month. I’m somewhat mortified that I’m publishing these, but I wanted to be open and honest about my experience, so here we go.

My starting measurements are:

Weight: 154.4 lbs

Waist- 34.5 inches

Bust- 37.5 inches

Hips- 41.5 inches

I’ll also update with photos. Hopefully as time goes on I’ll have more hair and less weight to show off!

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Photo from Day 1 of Couch to 5K!

The exercise really helps clear up the  residual mental cancer “funk.” Having solid fitness goals is also very encouraging. While I was in treatment I gave myself major props just for walking around the block or going to the grocery store. Now I’m training to do a 5k and it feels amazing. I would LOVE to do a half-marathon team-in-training to benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (like my friend Amy) or LIVESTRONG sometime next year, so I will keep you posted on what I decide to do and when.