Milestones: My Half-Marathon Experience

Thursday, July 11 was a major milestone on my cancer journey: I had my chemo port out after more than a year. When I would talk to people about it leading up to the procedure, they were so excited because the port is often considered the symbolic end of the cancer journey (though its never really over.)  I was surprised at their reaction at first because it didn’t seem real for me and I had trouble sharing their excitement. The port extraction just felt like the last thing on a long to-do list related to cancer. A major part of my lack of enthusiasm was the anxiety of having another procedure done.

My oncologist actually suggested I get it taken out in March, but I was feeling really overwhelmed at the time. I really wanted to get back to a “normal” routine with work, fitness, life, (and be in the millions of weddings I was in this year without having a open wound going on in the photographs) and surgery was just not a part of that equation for me… even if it was for a positive reason! I was also just generally adverse to being cut open in any way… however, I am happy to report that having a foreign object taken out of your body is apparently much easier than having it put in (at least in my case it was!) I was on significantly less sedation for the procedure itself, so I didn’t get sick afterward and I was much less sore. I still spent the next four days laying on my couch and groggily watching TV, but I think that had a lot to do with the cold I developed the day before surgery than the procedure itself. I am also excited because I am only restricted from swimming and working out for a week as opposed to several months like last year. The incision itself is still sore and itchy, but life is otherwise pretty much back to normal.

One of the reasons I’ve been so slow  to blog is because I’ve been out there “living it” as the young adult cancer community loves to say. My last post updated through Memorial Day weekend… and June was no less busy and exciting than April & May! I absolutely love the summer time and I wasn’t able to enjoy it at all last year. Surgeries + chemo + radiation = a lot of water & sunlight restrictions… which pretty much limits most fun activities in Texas.

June started off with a  bang as I hopped onto a plane to San Diego with my team-in-training teammates for the Rock N’ Roll San Diego half-marathon. As I have mentioned on here a few times, my sister Theresa, also signed up for the race with TNT and met me there. Neither one of us had a lot of time to research the area, but we both quickly fell in love with San Diego. The weather is pretty much perfect year round, the food is superb and there were plenty of historic sites … including a couple of ghost tours (which I am pretty much obsessed with!)

My friend from childhood, Megan, also did the race with me. When we got in on Friday, we all met up at the expo and one of the things we did was stop at the Delete Blood Cancer booth who were there to register bone marrow donors. I’m permanently deferred from donation due to my lymphoma diagnosis, however, both Megan and Theresa became my heroes by registering. I tweeted this pic and was retweeted by Delete Blood cancer, it was pretty bad ass.

Delete Blood Cancer

The next day we took the opportunity to visit the San Diego Zoo and met up with my dad’s cousins, who we hadn’t seen in about 13 years. Pretty much the only thing I knew about San Diego was the zoo, so we just had to go there… much to my coach’s dismay since we were supposed to stay off our feet as much as possible before the race… oh well! When in San Diego… go see the zoo! It was pretty awesome. My favorite part was seeing the Galapagos sea turtles! We were close enough to pet them but they were having none of that. I was amazed not only by their size, but because some of them had been alive since before Abraham Lincoln was president!

sea turtles

That evening we went to the Inspiration Dinner for Team In Training which was a really incredible and unique experience. As you walk into the banquet room, all the coaches and mentors from around the country line up and cheer everyone on. Many people reached out to me and patted me on the back or gave me high fives, some because they knew I was a survivor and others just because! One of the proudest moments for me is when they asked people to stand up if they were survivors, and to stay standing if we were also participating in the race, and to keep standing if we were participating and also an honored hero. I was one of maybe only five or six others who stayed standing the whole time in a room of about 1,500 people. It was very surreal.

One of the speaker’s has a father who passed away from blood cancer and a son who is here today due to the advancements in cures funded by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and TNT. The whole evening really shot home to me why we do the things we do. Team In Training folks had raised an outstanding $4.5 million for this event alone! I was so proud to be a part of that. There was also a nice bonus surprise because it was at the Inspiration Dinner that the race director announced that the Rock N’ Roll series was introducing a bonus medal for charity runners… which meant we got one but TWO medals if we finished the race the next day instead of just one. I’m all about the bling so I was super stoked!

Spoiler alert: I finished the race and this is what my rockin’ medals look like!

It was important to remember the reasons we signed up for TNT the next morning because we woke up dark and early at around 4:30 a.m. to catch the buses with our respective chapters. However, we were all so caught up in the moment and charged for our race, I don’t think we cared a hole lot about the wake up time. When we got to our corrals (many hours later) I felt the need to take a lot of obnoxious photographs. The race happened to take place on National Cancer Survivor’s Day on June 2, so I also felt the need to post all these photos across various social media declaring how bad ass I was for doing a half-marathon and being a cancer survivor (I am not egotistical at all…)

They generally are some version of this:

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Megan & Theresa were much cuter/calmer than me.

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There were also a ton of people there, about 30,000.

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You can get a vague impression of the huge crowd from this photo.

The race itself went surprisingly well. Theresa & I stayed together almost the entire time. I’m a walker and Theresa generously decided to walk alongside me so we could have the experience together. However, there were enough epic downhill stretches that we decided to run a few (I’m more willing to run if gravity is on my side doing most of the work!) The weather was absolutely wonderful and the temperature was in the 70’s the whole way. The San Diego folks had chairs set up along the race cheering everyone on whilst drinking at 7 a.m. It actually made me feel like I was back home in Louisiana for a Mardi Gras parade. Some folks even had signs that signs that said, “Worst parade ever.” At this point I was focused on staying ahead of the time limit, so there was no time to take photos for documentation purposes. Toward the end of the race I was feeling more confident that I would easily make it across the finish line with time to spare so I stopped to take a few photos of the course.

Theresa, Megan and I all fundraised as part of Team Jackie in honor of our teammate’s sister Jackie Sharp who passed away last year from leukemia. It was very motivating to see this sign toward the end of the race.

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I’m not sure why I felt the need to take a picture of the 12 mile marker and no others, but I did! This was at the end of a pretty long downhill stretch and Theresa & I were both a little woozy.

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In the end, we both made it across the finish line RUNNING and holding hands at 3:48:03. The folks taking photos didn’t snap a great shot of this at all, but it was pretty amazing. I technically beat Theresa by one second, and I have a feeling this is an achievement I will never accomplish again!

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I also thought it’d be cute to bite my medal like an olympian… it wasn’t.

All jokes aside, I cannot express enough how important it was for me to accomplish this goal. Being able to finish a half-marathon less than one year out of treatment, on National Cancer Survivor’s Day, as a way to raise awareness and research funds in honor of people like Grant, Jeannie, Brent, Jackie, Jay, Sam and all those who have fought cancer … was incredibly symbolic and an emotional experience for me.  The whole race really just made me feel like, “I’m going to be okay.” I became teary on more than one occasion passing signs with photos of people the LLS had helped using the funds TNT raises. A survivor herself was near the finish line holding a sign that said “I’m here because of you!”

I am so happy I chose to do Team In Training and I recommend it to anyone who is looking for a way to train for an endurance events. TNT is designed to be accessible to people of all fitness levels. You can choose to walk, run, tri, hike or bike for a variety of distances.  If you are looking for a way to support TNT, I am very proud to announce that my friend from grad school, Becca, has chosen to join TNT and train in my honor for the Brewer’s Mini-Marathon in Milwaukee this September. You can follow her progress and learn more about her training at http://pages.teamintraining.org/wi/brewmara13/wendler.

In my next entry, I will update you on some of the others shenanigans I’ve been up to!

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Life Update: April & May

So I am long overdue for an update and I apologize. For most of 2012 I was pretty bound to the Austin-area due to my illness and I’m apparently making up for ALL of that this year over the span of 3-4 months! I will try to update my blog more frequently.

I left off right around my birthday.

On April 23 I turned 26. I will never freak out about getting older again because I know how blessed I am to keep having these things called birthdays! Bring on the wrinkles (though not too many please!)

I celebrated 26 in style with my husband and then left for Las Vegas 2 days later for the OMG! Stupid Cancer Summit for young adult cancer survivors. I had a really amazing time and got to meet up with old friends as well as new. I LOVED visiting with a family friend who took me out for some amazing Vietnamese food and passed along plenty of hard-earned wisdom about racing. An old friend from my public relations program at LSU also went out of her way to come visit for a few minutes between conference sessions and it felt like we had seen each other yesterday. I feel so blessed that fate, magic and Facebook seem to bring people either into or back into my life regularly.

I also got the chance to hang out with my “cancer friends” KelseySam and Victoria, all of whom I had met through friends of friends and had mainly interacted with via the interwebz. Victoria discussed the term “survivor siblings” in her blog, and that’s exactly how it felt to me too… like we were all relatives meeting up at a family reunion after a long separation. Except instead of exchanging the names of grandparents to determine where you fall on the family tree… you exchange diagnoses. It might sound weird to other folks, but it actually was really cool hanging out with people who didn’t skip a beat when you start discussing your “war stories” and showing off your “battles scars.” There really weren’t any awkward silences (and believe me we got into some interesting territory in the ‘Nothing is Taboo’ session) or obligatory apologies or exclaims of “Oh… but you’re so young!” We were all young and we all had cancer and it was just a fact of life and treated as such.

The conference session topics widely ranged and I’ll try to discuss these topics more thoroughly in their own entries. Some topics available were: living with survivor’s guilt, long term effects of cancer treatment, care for the caregiver, healthy diet and life styles during/after cancer, sex and cancer, expressive writing, new developments in cancer therapies, and many more. One session I attended was the First Descents Adventure Race where my new friend/roommate for the weekend– Meredith– snapped this gem of me crab crawling for one of the challenges.

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Totally hot, right?

I was able to sight see a tad bit while in Vegas, taking in Beatles Love by Cirque Du Soleil, checking out the Bellagio fountain show and visiting the cheesy renowned Fremont Street area.

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A trip to Vegas isn’t complete until you take some photos with washed up Elvis impersonators.

All the cancer “hoorah! we’re still alive!” juju from the conference got into us and we randomly decided to zip line across a couple blocks of Fremont Street. As someone who developed a fear of heights and roller coasters as an adult, this was a big step for me. However,  it was a ton of fun, only lasted a few seconds and I had a blast!

 

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Sam & me preparing to zip line over Fremont Street.

Overall, I learned a lot, had some fun and saw just enough of Vegas to want to go back for more.

I returned to Texas and stayed pretty busy over the next few weeks. I went on a ghost tour of Austin for a late birthday celebration with friends and attended the Austin Color Run. It was my first official 5K race (though I had done a 10-miler a few weeks before) and I highly recommend it if one is coming to your area. The experience was even more amazing because my good friend from high school, Michelle, made the trek from Louisiana to Austin for the race to celebrate her graduation. She also brought her sister and we had a blast!

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Michelle, her sister Christina, me and Britni drenched in color at the Color Run on May 4.

The following Saturday, May 11, was really monumental for me. Somehow by fate, the longest run of the season with Team In Training happened to be the same day as my “cancerversary” — the anniversary of my cancer diagnosis. So early that morning, I got up bright eyed and bushy tailed at 5:30 a.m. and made the 20-mile trek to Austin from my northern suburb. With the support of my walking mentor, Casey, and walking coach, Anne, and various teammates, I finished the 14 miles– the most mileage I had ever done in one time before or since. It got a little shaky there at certain parts, but the support system I had in place thanks to Team In Training really helped get me through. When I reached the 13.1 mile half-marathon mark, Casey started playing the Olympic theme song. When that finished, she started playing the LSU pre-game and periodically kept playing it throughout that last mile (she knows well what will add pep to my step.) Despite the challenges (or because of them) I felt an incredible sense a peace throughout my walk and really felt so proud that I was able to accomplish such a feat less than a year out of treatment. It was all the more meaningful that it took place on my cancerversary. I recommend Team-In- Training to anyone, especially cancer survivors. So please find a chapter near you and get started!

The next few weeks were also eventful and included a visit to Louisiana for my friend, Kelli’s, wedding and my sister’s bridal shower. The wedding was amazing and included a last minute improvised fish hook dance that my friend Parker & I concocted for our bridal party introduction. The dance actually broke the time-space continuum as evidenced by this picture.

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Epic, right?

The next day we threw my sister a royal themed bridal “tea” and required everyone to wear hats because we are really demanding awesome like that. My hat was obviously the largest one there, a fact of which I am very proud.

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I take party themes very seriously.

That wraps up May. Please stay tuned for my next entry and I will discuss my first half-marathon, the Rock N’ Roll San Diego!

 

 

Anniv-ER-sary

Many dates stand out in my mind. April 20, 2012 is really what I identify as the beginning of my cancer journey. Yes… there were red flags that something was wrong leading up to this date, but in the early morning hours on April 20 last year I woke up with sharp chest pains that increased every time I inhaled. I wasn’t in excruciating pain, but my body had started doing enough odd things that I knew something was wrong. As I got into my car to drive to work that morning, I decided to call my parents more than 500 miles away in Kansas to discuss the pains with them. My parents are usually pretty good at telling me I’m being a hypochondriac and not to worry about whatever XYZ thing is wrong with me. However, this time they calmly informed me that going to work was a bad idea and I needed to go to the ER. I quickly made a right instead of a left at the intersection I drive through every morning, and followed their advice. I soon heard the words “you have a mass” for the first time. Those words lead to my first biopsy on April 24, 2012 which  led to a second biopsy, which eventually led to my diagnosis on May 11, 2012. Thinking about myself Before Cancer (BC) and After Cancer (AC) is very bizarre.

Before April 20 last year, the major struggles in my life revolved around my sense of purpose. I really didn’t know what I wanted to “do” with my life. I had a lot of interests pulling me in a lot of directions and I really struggled with making the wrong move. I was balancing graduate school and a full-time job, volunteering on the board for the LSU Austin Alumni Association and planning a vacation for when my husband would return home from deployment that summer.  I had just started doing crossfit twice a week in the mornings before work, and had been really impressed with how much strength I had left from doing personal training several months before. Like most of my adult life I remember always feeling extremely busy.

Looking at my life AC, a lot of the surface value things are still the same. I’m still working the same job, I have yet to return to grad school but have plans to finish up a few projects within the next few months, and I’m trying to amp up my fitness level. However, there are definitely some differences. My husband is now back and we’ve spent more time living under the same roof in the pass 11 months than we had during the first two years of our marriage combined. I feel more stability in my personal life now than I have since before going to college. I just achieved a major fitness goal by finishing my first race last weekend at the Austin 10/20. However,  I find that my motivations are so much different. While I’m still volunteering, I’m exclusively volunteering with cancer awareness related organizations/events. A year ago, I also never could have imagined that’d I’d be speaking in front of large  groups of healthcare professionals or with the media about my experience as a young adult cancer survivor. Not once but multiple times within a two month time frame. It’s all very surreal.

When I decided to start working out on the reg when my husband deployed in 2011, I did it because I wanted to lose weight without much thought to my long-term health at all. Now I am very aware of how fragile life can be, and plan to do everything I can to stay healthy– for my family and for my future. Although I’ve never been an extremely fit person, when I began team-in-training I was at the lowest fitness level of my life– with the exception of when I was actually going through treatment. Various steroid/hormone treatments I had due to cancer coupled with months of low activity led me to gain about 20 lbs. something I’m still struggling with. More frustrating was my overall lack of energy and strength. I’ve definitely seen a marked improvement in both, and the fact I was able to achieve personal records for both distance and speed time and again during this recovery period has been amazing. I am looking forward to achieving more and more personal records, including completing my first half-marathon in June with my sister Theresa and with my team-in-training. More importantly I have fundraised more in the past few months than I have in my entire life BC for a cause I’m so passionate about. I really never worry about what my purpose in life is anymore, because I’ve found it. Cancer advocacy and fundraising will always be a part of my life until there is a cure… and even after because cancer survivorship issues will probably surpass my lifespan.

I spent the weekend of my annivERsary doing a great combination of things both the AC and BC Laura loves. We met up with our church friend on Friday to watch 42, an amazing movie by the way. I also found an amazing photographer through Shoots for a Cure, a nonprofit that offers free photography services to cancer fighters/survivors and their families. Much to Rene’s dismay I love documenting our lives a couple times a year when possible. Luckily I have a sister that is a professional photographer so she helps out with that a lot. Unfortunately,  she lives in Wichita and despite her best efforts can’t always document our lives at my beck and call. However, I was so excited when I found Laura Reed with 2E Photography. Laura (not only sharing my first name) is also a cancer survivor, she is from Louisiana and does endurance events to benefit cancer awareness causes. Sound familiar? I really wanted to get photos done while the Texas bluebonnets were still blooming, and with the season quickly coming to a close, I was worried no one would be available. Luckily, Laura was able to work with our schedule. She met us in Georgetown bright and early on Saturday morning and we had so much fun (even Rene!) I’m sure I’ll be posting the finished products as soon as they are finished, so stay tuned!

After we wrapped up the photo shoot, we ran some errands and visited with a travel agent to discuss our possible (and long awaited) vacation we never got to take when Rene came home from deployment. Afterward we went to the LSU Austin crawfish boil to hang out with some fellow Texas Tigers and then met up with Team-In-Training for our mid-season party. Earlier today I volunteered with a group of TNTers and Rene to work at the Round Rock Express game, our local minor league baseball team, to raise money for Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Despite some occasional stress, this weekend I spent a lot of time appreciating and thanking God for this amazing support system in my life. As rough as cancer was, I’ve met so many amazing people and strengthened so many relationships because of it.

Tomorrow I will be hosting a fundraiser at Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers in honor of my 26th birthday (which will be the day after on Tuesday) and my annivERsary. Then I will be headed to Las Vegas for the OMG Stupid Cancer conference on Thursday to connect with other young adult cancer survivors and supporters!

In the mean time, please consider showing your support by making a donation to my team-in-training by visiting my fundraising page here. Every dollar brings us closer to finding a cure!

Austin and Boston

As many of you know from the steady stream of social media posts and photos, I finished the Austin 10/20 –my first race EVER– on Sunday. The Austin 10/20 race is only in its second year and consists of 10 miles  and 20 bands. Every half-mile is a different band. The official time limit on the race was three hours, so that was my goal. I had only done 10 miles one other time during training and it had taken me almost four hours to complete. Granted there was some unexpected off-roading and I forgot my nutrition at home, so there were some major hiccups on that training walk. However, I was anticipating being a little over the goal of 3 hours. I was so stoked when I crossed the finish line at 2:49:39. What was really cool was having the support of my Team-In-Training coaches and teammates to cheer me on. So many of them stayed at the finish line to support their teammates, it was a really special feeling and it motivated me to muster enough energy together to run the last 50 feet or so and really show off for the camera.

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The official photos are much more obnoxious impressive, I assure you.

My good friend Megan and my husband Rene also did the race with me. Rene, being an Army guy, ran and finished well ahead of me and was at the finish line waiting for me. Megan unfortunately inflamed an old injury to her foot a few weeks before the Austin 10/20, but managed to finish the full 10 miles. Megan is quite a bit faster than me normally, but she ended up being the last Team-In-Training participant to finish due to her injury. However, when you are the last TNT person to cross the finish line…. something really cool happens. All the coaches from all the chapters that have people at the event come and walk with you to the finish line! Most of the teammates also stick around to cheer you on at the end. It was an incredibly moving experience. Seeing Megan cross the finish line was so inspiring to all of us and I’m so proud to have her as a friend.

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Megan with all the TNT coaches approaching the finish line.

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Megan, Rene and me posing with our medals. I’m really impressed with how good we all look considering we were all limping around at this point.

I wish I could just end the entry here, but unfortunately I can’t. Many people have written about the events in Boston with much more eloquence than I can. But it was impossible for me to blog about my own race triumph without discussing what happened in Boston. These are the types of photos we should be seeing from people who participated in the Boston Marathon. Photos documenting joy, triumph and pride. Instead, what we saw was tragedy, carnage and loss.

I was on my way to a doctor’s appointment when I got a CNN breaking news alert that the winners had crossed the finish line. I figured that would be the extent of the news I would hear from Boston the rest of the day. A few hours later I checked my phone and saw there had been a bomb blast at the finish line. I went home and watched the news for several hours, talked to family and friends, checked on people I knew who might be there via social media to make sure they and their loved ones were safe. My first thoughts when I heard the news was shock. How the hell does something like this happen in today’s day and age?

I also kind of felt guilty for being able to finish my race on Sunday and celebrate that achievement when so many people were not able to do that the next day. Many will never have the opportunity to do an endurance event again or ever. I feel horrible that an activity that people love has been forever tainted. That a race that many considered the pinnacle of their running achievements has been marred forever. That people lost their lives and their limbs just for being at a marathon– either as a spectator or participant. No one should ever have to worry about being attacked EVER, let alone while they are doing something positive for their health and the world. Can we no longer experience achievement publicly without having some lunatic try to kill us? Will anyone be able to cross a finish line without thinking about Boston? Was the person responsible looking for irony? Was he thinking “Let me take down these athletes at their peak physical fitness level so I can feel powerful?” Was he just going for big headlines? Will we ever know?

People who run marathons are exceptional people from all walks of life! I don’t have the stats on this but many people who decide to run marathons in their spare time do it because they’re like me (but way faster). They have experienced some kind of traumatic event  in their lives and they either want to channel their feelings toward something positive, or they want to take charge of their health in a very active, goal-oriented way. Most likely its some combination of both. The people at this race are people like this Massachusetts couple. Both have either fought or are currently fighting blood cancer and  have raised more than $70,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society over the years. According to Team-In-Training’s update yesterday, thankfully all 145 Team-In-Training participants who were at the Boston Marathon Monday are accounted for and okay. But what about the 8-year-old boy or the 29-year-old woman or the young graduate student from China who were all killed? They were all there to support people they cared about and died as a result. It’s all just awful and unfair.

As many people have stated though, it has been beautiful to see people band together in the face of adversity. We have heard many stories about marathoners immediately running to the hospitals to donate blood for the wounded even though they were exhausted from their race and also traumatized from the days events. Or about the surgeon who had to perform life savings surgeries despite just finishing a marathon. Or of the first-responders and soldiers who were there to help manage the chaos and start saving lives immediately. It’s truly a testament to the indomitable spirit of humanity.

These events will leave my heart heavy for a long time. My prayers are with all those affected by this tragedy and with everyone as we struggle to understand these events. I know many people around the country are organizing memorial runs/walks and Austin is no different. One will be held at Town Lake in Austin tomorrow night, so I’m hoping I will be able to make it.

Stay safe, everyone!

 

Mile 11

As you might have read in previous posts, I’m currently training for a half-marathon with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team-In-Training (TNT) program. I had originally planned to run the Nike Women’s Half-Marathon in Washington, D.C. on April 28. However, due to recovery setbacks I decided to adjust my goals to run the Rock N’ Roll Half-Marathon in San Diego on June 3. I went to my first TNT brainwashing session preview party last week, and invited my friend Megan to attend with me. Before the end of the night, the extremely passionate TNT coaches had her convinced to sign up as well! We’re now going to train and fund raise as a team. She’s been a faithful friend to me for more than a decade, and I’m so proud to have her join me on yet another adventure.

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Megan & I tailgating for the LSU vs. Oregon game at the 2011 Cowboy’s Classic in Dallas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To read more about our team or to make a donation, please visit our TNT page here. You can also follow Megan’s blog at Projects for a New Year.

This topic actually brings me to another amazing friend of mine. One of the people who inspired me to do TNT was my good friend and fellow LSU alum, Amy Brittain, who ran the Philadelphia Half-Marathon and raised money to fight cancer through TNT this past November in my honor. She also generously agreed to do a guest blog post, and since Amy is actually an award winning journalist, I’m truly honored to have her contribute to The Lymphoma Letters!

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Visiting Amy in New York City in 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mile 11

By Amy Brittain

I did the occasional 5K, but I wasn’t the type of lunatic, I used to
say, that would ever run any sort of crazy long distance.

As it turns out, I did just that.

When Laura called me with the news of her diagnosis, I struggled to
comprehend her words. We were supposed to be young, in the height of
our mid-20s, enjoying a carefree sort of life. Hearing her speak the
word “cancer” absolutely gutted me.

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Celebrating Amy’s 21st birthday in 2007.

I decided that I wanted to do something about it. Not that I could
take away any of her pain, or make her treatments any easier, but I
wanted to feel as if I was doing my part to honor her courage.

That’s when I decided to run a half marathon.

I had heard about Team in Training, a charity that supports
leukemia/lymphoma research, through a work friend. I called and signed
up, pledging that in return for 24/7 coaching and support, I’d raise
$2,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

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Amy & our friend, Victoria, sporting their “Geaux Team Laura” shirts with pride!

And just like that, I was signed up for my race— a 13.1 mile course
through Philadelphia in mid-November.

The trainings weren’t easy. Every Saturday, our Team in Training crew
from New Jersey gathered at an area park to put in our miles. Before
each run, a team member shared a story of inspiration. Some of my
fellow runners shared their own heartaches from relatives and friends
who had lost their lives to blood cancers. I shared Laura’s story one
Saturday, and we dedicated our run in Liberty State Park, with
beautiful views of the Statue of Liberty, to her ongoing battle.

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Amy on a training run on the George Washington bridge.

When you’re running for a cause, it’s a lot easier to put one foot in
front of the other. It’s also a lot easier to wake up at 5:30 a.m. on
a Saturday morning, knowing that if you hit that snooze button, you’ll
be breaking a promise that you made to commit to a worthy cause.

The race was not easy. But as I donned my purple team Jersey, with
Laura’s name written on the back, I knew that I was going to finish. I
had to, for Laura, for myself, and most importantly, for my teammates.

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Amy with her Team-in-Training

Around mile 11, it felt as if every muscle in my body was begging me
to stop. I kept going (although I must have looked like a lunatic as I
started to talk to myself for encouragement).

It was only fitting that our grand finish was near the Philadelphia
Museum of Art, the site of the famous steps from the “Rocky” movie. As
I crossed the finish line with a time of 2:36, I played “Eye of the
Tiger” and raised my hands in relief and pure joy. And I thought to
myself, “I am officially retired from running,” and had a good laugh.

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Amy crossing the finish line!

Once again, I’m not a runner. I don’t pretend to be. But I am a
fighter, and because of Laura’s inspiration, I’m proud to say that I
won.

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.

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.