December in Review

I’ve been meaning to update everyone on my fitness progress, but I’ve honestly been very discouraged so it was hard to motivate myself to blog. I made it through 5 weeks of Couch to 5K training and finished up my LIVESTRONG at the YMCA program as well. Unfortunately, at the beginning of December I started having quite a bit of pain. It began on the skins of my sides around my rib cage. At first my doctor was concerned it might be shingles. However, since it was on both sides and there was no apparent rash, they quickly eliminated that possibility since shingles generally only manifests on one side. I went for my quarterly check-up with my oncologist in early December and consulted her about it. Since my blood work came back fine, she wasn’t overly concerned. The following week the pain had spread around to my chest and back as well, so I went to my primary care manager for a follow-up. She thought it was a compressed vertebrae. Luckily my x-ray came back fine, but she told me to hold off running and doing any heavy lifting for up to 8 weeks. I’m feeling much better now, but I’ve been bummed out for the greater part of December.

I think the situation frustrated me on several levels. I have never been a fitness guru of any kind, and I didn’t feel like I had been attempting anything extremely difficult even by my own low standards. The fact that I had such a major physical set back so quickly was pretty discouraging.  I went through several phases of “my body will never be the same” “i feel fat” “why didn’t i take better care of myself when I was younger” etc. These feelings were also compounded by the fact that my body is still going through major hormonal swings due using lupron for six months and the adjustment to being off of it for about three months now. It’s pretty much like going through puberty all over again. complete with zits, mood swings… the  whole works. My hair is growing back very quickly (which is great), but its also coming in curley which I have no experience with and am not prepared to handle. I’ve been experimenting with hair product, but let’s just say a bad hair day is not uncommon. I’m also tired pretty much all the time and try to get at least nine hours of sleep so I’m functional. In addition to working full-time and commuting an hour each way, it doesn’t take much for me to go psycho feel overwhelmed.

However, I saw another Michael J. Fox interview a couple days ago and he said something along the lines of “My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance and in inverse proportion to my expectation.” Although I’m not comparing my situation to his by any means, his attitude really helped me reach acceptance of my own situation. I’m able to see how lucky I am for being alive, for being cancer free and able to even think about doing a half-marathon. My body did get me through cancer, chemo, several surgeries and radiation, so I can’t really knock it too much. So I’m going to take Mr. Fox’s advice and focus on what I can do and not what I can’t.

The team-in-training program I’m participating in has a training program for walkers, so while I’m still planning to do the half-marathon in April, my goal is to finish without putting pressure on myself to run the entirety or finish within a certain time. The team-in-training program starts at the end of January, so that should give me enough time to recover from my wonky back/skin issues and raise some funds to beat this stupid cancer thing. Once the “official” training starts, I’ll be able to have a better idea of what is realistic for me and set some goals accordingly. I spoke with my mentor for the first time over the Christmas holiday and I’m super stoked to meet some of these amazing people soon.

In other news, I was able to go to Kansas for the first time in more than a year to visit my parents and two of my sisters (along with their significant others.) I was so happy to be with them and the visit was way too short (as always.) I was especially happy to make the trip with my husband. Rene missed all the winter holidays last year due to his deployment to the Middle East. We stopped in Fort Sill, OK on our way up to see one of the areas he grew up. His family was stationed at Fort Sill twice while he was growing up, so he spent about 10 years there total, which is fairly unusual for an Army brat. It was very special for me to be able to share in some of those memories with him.

While we were in Kansas, it was extremely cold for this Louisiexan (or Texianian…whichever you prefer.) The majority of our time was spent indoors playing board games, watching movies, wrapping presents, and of course eating. My family couldn’t pass up the opportunity for a National Parks passport stamp though, and we did take a trip to the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve.

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National Park Stamps = Winning

While there, we decided to take what ultimately became a two mile hike in 20 something degree weather to attempt to see some buffalo. Sadly, the closer we came to the buffalo the further they would walk away from us. We ultimately “hike failed,” but the boys enjoyed throwing rocks at a frozen pond to see if they could break it (they couldn’t.) They then pondered walking across it (thankfully they didn’t.) I unfortunately didn’t get any photos of these exploits. As I said, it was really cold and my hands were firmly gloved and in my pockets the entire hike.

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My parents cat (Bumble) and dog (Little Bitty) thought it was cold too.

Hope

I had a really great Thanksgiving and following weekend. I went back home to Louisiana and spent some time with my sister and extended family, although much too brief for my liking. I also spent quite a bit of time with some of my best friends from college. It was the first time most of them had seen me since I got sick. It will never cease to amaze me how quickly life can change.

Meagan, my old college roommate, was celebrating both her bridal shower and bachelorette party in Kenner Thanksgiving weekend, and I was privileged and honored to play a part.There were parts of the trip I felt very emotional, but I loved and appreciated every moment of it in a way that I wouldn’t have before I got sick. Spending Thanksgiving with my aunts and cousins, watching one of my best friend’s try on her wedding dress and choose a veil, playing dirty games at a bachelorette party, picking out the perfect presents for the shower, eating sushi with my sister and her boyfriend, talking about the future. I felt like a normal 25 year old again, doing normal things. And I loved every minute of it. But I also was very aware of just how special those moments were on a whole new level now, because I fought hard to have them.

A friend of mine from high school, also named Megan, lives in Austin now and I was very happy to have someone to make the long journey with to and from Louisiana. While we were driving we had a conversation about how amazing it is that so many of the people we grew up or went to college with are living their dreams. I know those dreams have evolved and grown with us, but most of us have set out and achieved what we sought to at his point in our lives and are now working on new adventures. I feel so blessed and proud to have been given the ability and motivation to do so myself. I am also very proud of my friends and loved ones that have done the same.

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Out to eat Thanksgiving weekend with a few of the people I’m proud to call friends.

Shortly after I returned, one of the church leaders called me and asked me and Rene to light the first advent candle at Sunday’s service. I was honored and immediately accepted. Advent is the beginning of the Christian calendar and it made me think of all that we have accomplished in a year. A year ago we hadn’t even joined the church, and there we stood, in front of the whole congregation, surrounded by so much love. Reading part of the script (below), really brought home one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned during my cancer journey.

The Advent wreath is a tool that guides our journey through the Advent season.  The four candles in the ring of the wreath mark for us the passing of time, calling us to do the work of preparation.

The first candle to be lit in the wreath is the candle of hope.  Hope is about the future – about what will be but is not yet.  Hope is rooted in God, in God’s work, in God’s faithfulness.  It is the quiet confidence, the settled assurance that God is at work for our good, even when we cannot see that work.  Such hope stirs within us the strength to keep on keeping on, to be faithful as God is faithful.

The cancer journey is like a constant rough patch in the road. I wouldn’t say there was ever a moment I felt like we were smooth sailing. Even now, I have unexpected hormone swings, rash outbreaks, exhaustion, etc. I have my first big check-up post-treatment later this week, and I’m nervous about what might turn up. But throughout it all I have been blessed with this overwhelming feeling that everything will be okay. I never stopped planning for the future. I knew that there this was just part of my journey. Anytime I felt down or defeated, I would be reminded that everything does happen for a reason, and He has a plan and is at work. I’m still discovering what some of those plans might be, but its truly a beautiful and exciting experience to see them unfold! 

This holiday season, I hope everyone is able to find hope, even through the roughest of patches.