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!

 

Remembering Jay Taylor

I received this email this morning from Colin, Austin’s Team-In-Training coordinator:

“I don’t think there’s a proper word to begin this e-mail. Our dear friend, Jay Taylor, passed away. He was with his family in Monroe. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers through this difficult time. You will be sorely missed my friend. As Dorothy says, you showed us how it was done. You lived.”

You might remember me discussing Jay from my earlier entry, PT Scans & Mission Moments. Although I didn’t know Jay, I learned about him through the many friends he still has in TNT. A fellow-Louisianian from Monroe, he became involved with TNT when his mother died of cancer about 10 years ago. He just found out he had stage 4 lung cancer within the past year and a half or so. His father is also currently fighting cancer. Please keep Jay’s loved ones in your prayers as they struggle through their losses.

His story will continue to remind me why I’m training for my half-marathon in June– to run (or walk) for those that can’t.

Colin forwarded us some photos of Jay during his TNT days that I have shared below.

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PT Scans and Mission Moments

It’s been awhile since I’ve written an entire blog post on my own and figured you were long overdue for an update. I actually wrote this post intermittently throughout the day yesterday. I got a large chunk of writing finished while waiting to have a PT scan done. I’ve actually been looking forward to having my PT scan. I like having the reassurance that everything is going well with my body. I didn’t get one after radiation, so I haven’t had one since the first week of September when they checked me out after my last chemo. Having a check-in will definitely make me feel better about everything.

Unfortunately, I forgot about everything that comes along with the PT scan. Beforehand, I have to get lab work done which means one needle stick. Once I get checked into radiology and they are ready for me, they insert an IV. Usually this only means one needle stick, but today it meant several. I offered the tech my left arm since the right had already been stuck once today, and I was trying to save it further trauma. The left didn’t work so well, so the right ended up getting doubly pricked despite my best efforts. They also let a nurse in training do my glucose check, so along with the sore arm I now also have a sore bird finger on the same hand as well. I also had to fast for four hours before my appointment. Once there, the whole process takes about 2-3 hours as well. Needless to say, I was a bit “hangry” by the end of my appointment, as my sister Sarah would say.

Also, some words of wisdom to anyone who might be having a PT scan. You are not allowed to wear anything medal when having a PT scan done. This includes underwire bras, ladies. No one reminded me of this fact before I went and instead of wearing my standard PT scan uniform of sweats with a baggie t-shirt/sports bra combo, I went in my work clothes that included a fairly tight shirt with my standard wired bra. It wasn’t until it was time for the PT scan that I realized my mistake. As luck would have it, my local hospital doesn’t have its own PT scan unit, so it uses a mobile unit that requires me to leave the comforts of the hospital before getting into what I affectionately call the “PT Mobile.” Again, not usually an issue. But once I changed out of my bra, I had to traverse the extremely chilly and breezy walkway between said PT mobile and the hospital building. I’m sure the PT scan techs got a nice visual of snap and crackle (How I Met Your Mother fans will catch my drift) in the process. At this point though, who at that hospital hasn’t seen my boobs? So I just kind of shrug off these awkward situations these days.

The local location of my healthcare system can only do PT scans on Wednesdays, which means they can’t schedule me for my follow-up with the oncologist to get my results until Monday, so I have the whole weekend to obsess over it. Its pretty nerve racking. While the chances of someone relapsing from stage 1 Hodgkin’s are extremely low, I personally have met people that it has happened to and — while thinking positive thoughts– I’m also trying not to be too blase about it just in case something turns up on the scan. I called my oncology nurse and she said that she could let me know on Friday if there was something to worry about or not, but that my doctor still wants to meet with me on Monday to discuss the results in detail. Hopefully I’ll get the all clear and can enjoy my weekend as much as possible. One of the reasons I keep myself so busy is because I don’t want to sink into obsessive/negative thoughts about whether or not my cancer will come back.

In addition to all the craziness I do on the reg (working full time, contract work, team-in-training, volunteering with the young adult social group, blogging, being married, etc.). I have a very active friend group with lots of major milestones coming up! In addition to a lot of wedding on the horizons, I’m going to two baby showers to go to this weekend! I am so incredibly excited it is ridiculous. I have the absolute cutest gifts too. I will  post some pictures of them after the baby showers because one of my teammates actually made them as part of her Team-In-Training fundraiser, and I absolutely have to give her a plug on here because she is amazing. She has helped me get all of my gift shopping done for the year basically, and it has saved me so much stress and time.

Speaking of which, Team In Training is going really well and has been an incredible blessing. One of my coaches this weekend was telling me how well I fit in and it felt like I’ve always been on the team, and I feel the exact same way. It’s like a family I never knew I had!

On Saturday, we had our mission practice where all the TNT groups in the city (triathlon, marathon and biking) get together and have one large practice. We started off practice with our scheduled mileage, which was 4 miles. The walkers did our’s in about an hour, which was pretty great time for me. After that, we all met back up and had a “mission moment” which was dedicated to Jay Taylor.

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We have a mission moment at every practice, but its usually pretty short and its basically consists of someone sharing a story that motivates them personally. Some talk about loved ones that they lost, and others about someone they know that is still going through it. This practice was dedicated to Jay because he is the honored hero for the whole team, and multiple people spoke about him. Jay became involved with TNT about 10 years ago after his mother passed away from cancer. I’m not exactly sure of the details, but I know that he served as both a participant and coach throughout the years. What was very obvious though, was that he made many close friends on the team.

One of the coaches sharing her story about Jay.

One of the coaches sharing her story about Jay.

About a year and a half ago, Jay was struggling to breathe while training for a triathlon he was doing through TNT. Soon he began having trouble breathing even when he was resting. They discovered that he had stage 4 lung cancer. Unfortunately, lung cancer is one of the less treatable forms of cancer and his was obviously very advanced by the time they caught it. He tried several experimental treatments, but unfortunately none of them are working and he recently flew home to Monroe, La. to enter into hospice care. His father is also battling cancer right now, so please keep their whole family in your prayers. I haven’t even met these folks, and I’m personally struggling with the injustice of it all. I can’t even comprehend what they are going through right now. However, his friends’ messages were that as helpless as cancer can make us feel, there are things we can do to fight and that’s what TNT is here for. It was really beautiful to see how many lives Jay affected in such a positive way, and I’m really sorry I haven’t had the chance to meet him.

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Teammates during Mission Moment

After the mission moment, we all did a silent mile — one of the most moving experiences of my life. Along the route there were several signs that served to educate the public and also to motivate the participants.

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As everyone finished the mile, they made two single file lines. As people finished they received high fives from all their teammates. I actually had no clue that they were going to do this. And since I had been taking photos of all the signs along the silent mile I had my hands very full and was grossly unprepared for the high five action I was received at the finish line. I was equally unprepared for the photo that they took of me.

Laura mission mile

I mean, really?

Rene looked awesome though.

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My husband is much more photogenic than I am.

But in all seriousness, as I was going through my sea of teammates, I was close to tears several times. It was such an incredibly moving experience. As I went by, many of the people who knew my story gave my hand an extra squeeze and patted me on the back. It was really amazing. I seriously recommend TNT to anyone trying to do endurance sports, whether they have a personal connection to the cause or not. The atmosphere is incredibly magical and positive.

After the last person came in, we all got into our standard huddle that we do at the beginning and end of most practices and yelled “Go Team!” It was the loudest “Go Team!” I’ve heard yet.

It became more of a party atmosphere after that, and we went to the tents they had set up and had breakfast tacos, bagels and all sorts of goodies. One of the coaches also had made us our own special ribbons with the names of our honored heroes/angels on them. See if you can spot which one is mine.

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Hint: It’s the LSU-esque one in the middle.

Someone also made a poster with photos of all the honored heroes.

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Three of my honored heroes and angels were pictured as well. In the shot below, you can see both Grant Hebert (who you may have read about in the entry Mary and Grant) and Jeannie Wannage, my friend’s mom who passed away a few years ago.

Grant and Jeannie

Also pictured was my sister’s friend and coworker, Brent Mesquit, who is currently fighting Multiple Myleoma.

Brent Mesquit

TNT also had invited a representative from Be the Match there to register folks for the bone marrow registry.

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As y’all know, this is one of the causes I’m most passionate about and it was beautiful to see a huge long line forming of these amazing TNT volunteers. The line would probably be longer, but many of the people there were already registered or (like me) are not allowed to due to our medical history. Others, like my husband (who was born in Germany), have spent too many years in certain countries and are not allowed to donate.  My point is that many people who would be otherwise willing and motivated to do so, are not allowed to donate blood or join the bone marrow registry for various reasons. If you qualify, please please consider becoming a blood bone marrow donor. To find out if you qualify and to learn more about the bone marrow registry, visit www.marrow.org. My friend, Amber, recently donated bone marrow and wrote a guest blog post, Be the Match, awhile back which you can read here. I know several other people that have registered since my illness, and I’m very excited to find out if they ever get matched with someone in need.

We ended the Mission Practice with our first ever team photo. I am so incredibly proud to be part of team-in-training.

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Mary and Grant

On this day honoring the patron saint of young people and love– St. Valentine — I wanted to take some time to discuss two very special people: my cousin, Mary, and her late boyfriend, Grant Hebert. They were only 17 and 19 when they met, and sadly Grant passed away less than a year later when he was 20. I only met Grant once on Easter Sunday 2009, but his presence made an impact on our whole family. Though I didn’t know him well, he was extremely nice and polite, and he made Mary very happy. Not long after they started dating, we heard through the family grapevine that Grant had a relapse of cancer. I knew he had some form of leukemia, but not much else. I started following a Caring Bridge blog written by Grant’s mother, Missy, about his journey. Missy recently explained to me that Grant had been diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia when he was 14. After enduring 2 and a half years of chemotherapy, he achieved remission and went on to graduate from high school in 2007. Shortly after he met Mary, he relapsed in 2009.

Although I had been an occasional blood donor in the past, it was from reading about Grant’s experience that made me really passionate about blood, platelet and bone marrow donation. Grant needed regular blood and platelet donations due to his leukemia, and there was sometimes difficulty finding appropriate donors that were A+ and CMV- like him. CMV is short for cytomegalovirus, a virus that almost everyone has antibodies for by the time they are an adult. However, some people — like Grant and myself — do not. I was never able to donate directly to Grant because I was living in Illinois at the time of his illness, but I made a point to donate regularly so others in his position would have better access to blood. He continues to be an inspiration to me today, and his family and Mary were very supportive when I asked if he could be an honored angel for my Team-In-Training fundraiser to benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Mary was also very generous and agreed to answer a few questions about her experience as the significant other of a cancer fighter:

When/how did you meet Grant?

I met Grant in December of 2008. It was a Sunday afternoon and I was working at Fairview Cinema at the time. He came to the four o’clock show to see Yes Man. Now I had seen Grant a few times while working at the cinema and always thought he was really cute. I had no idea who he was, but one of the girls I worked with did. She told his name was Grant and he was a great guy. I was curious and when I got home from work I found him on Myspace, sent him a friend request. He accepted and we started talking. 

When/how did he tell you he had cancer?

He first told me he had had cancer when we were talking, before we started dating. If I remember correctly, he told me he first had cancer in high school but he was in remission and had been for almost 5 years. In 2009,  He went for a check up and counts were low, so they wanted to do a spinal tap. He called me that afternoon to tell me that he relapsed, but that he would be ok. He also made sure to let me know that I was going to be able to go see him. 

What was your reaction?

I’ve thought about this question for a while, because I didn’t know how to answer this. My answer may sound strange but it’s true.

When he told me he had relapsed I didn’t freak out or cry. I just let it sink in, I guess you could say. Honestly, with Grant I believe it was love at first sight. What some people don’t know is Grant tried to get rid of me shortly after he relapsed. He asked me to be his girlfriend on January 14, 2009 the same day he told me the news. Maybe a couple of weeks later, he sent me a text telling me that he understood if I left. That he would understand if I didn’t want to be with him because he had cancer. I basically told him to shut up and I promised him I wasn’t going anywhere. That I was going to be there till the end. What can I say, I loved him. 

How did Grant handle the news? 

I really can’t answer this one because I don’t know. I can about imagine that he was upset, but he wasn’t going to let it get the best of him. He was going to live life to the fullest, and in my opinion he did.

What advice do you have for the significant others of cancer patients? 

First off, if you are a boyfriend or girlfriend of a cancer patient, don’t run. It is indeed scary seeing the one you love go through everything that comes with cancer, but it will also hurt your loved one more if you left. Also be the best support you can. Spend as much time as you can with them, make lots of memories. You never know if or when your last day with them might be. 

 What do people need to know about cancer? (From Laura: Coincidentally someone also gave me a plaque with this poem during my cancer treatment and I found it very helpful as well.)

Cancer and do so many things, but cancer cannot destroy love. 

A cancer mom on Caring Bridge posted this on her page. I have loved it ever since I first read it. 

the Author is unknown. 

 Cancer is so limited…

It cannot cripple love.

It cannot shatter hope.

It cannot corrode faith.

It cannot eat away peace.

It cannot destroy confidence.

It cannot kill friendship.

It cannot shut out memories.

It cannot silence courage.

It cannot reduce eternal life.

It cannot quench the Spirit.

What would you like Grant to be remembered for?

I think It’s not what I want him to be remembered for, but what he will be remembered for. The picture below says it all. Yes, Grant has no color and it’s not the best picture of him. One week before this picture was taken, Grant had just been discharged from the hospital after having pneumonia. The day of my graduation he had to go back to the hospital for a spinal tap. His Grammy told me that he told the doctors he had to be gone by a certain time because his girlfriend graduated tonight. He made it to my graduation party, which was good enough for me. I could tell he still wasn’t feeling 100%. But when my dad asked him, “How you feeling Grant?”  Grants answer was, “I’m feeling great.” 

Grant never complained about how he felt. He always had the infectious smile on his face. I could have had the worst day and just seeing Grant made my day so much better. In the 9 months Grant and I were together I never ever saw him cry. The only time I saw him cry was the last time I saw him awake when he was in ICU. I was leaving the hospital for the night and went back to see him one more time. I held his hand and he mouthed I love you. I told him I love him too. That was the first time I saw him cry. I think Grant knew that was the last time we would see each other while he was awake. 

I will say this, I get asked by people who hear about Grant if I ever regret dating him. I don’t regret any minute of it. I learned so much from this amazing man, I truly believe Grant helped make me the person I am today. People also ask me how did I do it? How did I stand by his side knowing he could possibly die? When you love someone so much, none of that matters. The cancer didn’t scare me, being without Grant scared me. 

“The Dance” by Garth Brooks explains how I feel now. 

“I’m glad I didn’t know the way it all would end, the way it all would go. 

Our lives are better left to chance, I could have missed the pain but I’d have to miss the dance.”

Yes, I miss him everyday, I think about him everyday, but I regret none of it. I loved Grant then and I will love him forever. I’ll just be happy the way Grant would want me to be. I lost him, but I gained an amazing second family. 

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