Eight years

Eight years ago yesterday, I was a 28 year old kid, sitting in my cubicle at work when the phone rang. It was about a week after my biopsy and I still hadn't heard anything from the surgeon. She had gone on vacation, and I was anxious to hear the results from the pathology report so I could finally exhale. I had left a message earlier that day, and the surgeon's associate, whom I had never met, finally called me back. He started telling me the results, and at the time I couldn't remember if malignant was the good kind or the bad kind. I remember writing down all that he was saying and then I heard the word "carcinoma". I looked down at the paper, and suddenly, my writing was completely illegible. I still don't remember any of what was said after that except that it was cancer, and I needed to come in and see them. I can't even remember if I saw the surgeon's associate, or if I waited until she had gotten back from vacation. What I do remember is that for some reason or another, I kept that scrap of paper for a long time…

Eight years ago seems like an eternity and my entire world has changed multiple times since. I suppose the difference now is that I am better equipped to hear news like that. The thing is? It doesn't mean it ever gets easier to hear.

Two more days until I go in for my next treatment. Most likely, the doc will order a scan this time. It's time. And in the meanwhile, I've worked very hard at and have been pretty successful at not spending the time that I do feel great, worrying about the times that I may not feel great again. Still, it scares the hell out of me. But when I look to the future, I see myself with hair during baseball season. And at the Nutcracker. And at the Grand Canyon for Christmas. And I think in my mind about the "good" statistics - the ones that say such-and-such amount of time until progression of the disease, and I don't think I've progressed. I don't *feel* like I've progressed, at least.

I know it's the easy part, this every three weeks Herceptin, but even though I know it's a slam-dunk, I still hate going in there alone. I suppose it's one of those times that I feel like a very, very small girl in a very, very big world, as it reminds me, every three weeks, exactly what I'm dealing with.

I've been feeling more connected to some spiritual sense on the trails, lately. Perhaps it's because I know that as I'm huffing and puffing up some ridiculous hill, realizing that even if my calves are burning, it's because they are strong and I'm able to inhale and exhale deeply. And that I'm hiking because I can, and for the times that I wasn't able to. For the footfalls in front of me, and for the times when they are behind me. For the unconditional love of the dogs that run ahead of us, and the lessons they have taught me with their happy, flappy ears and their small wet snoots. Because I simply have too much left to do in this lifetime. I've always joked that we have been attending the "Church/Temple of South Mountain". Perhaps there is some truth to that after all...


I stopped running in mid-November. My body just didn't want to go anymore. I told myself it was because it was recovering from the 3-Day, but I so clearly remember the day when after nearly 1/2 a mile on the way to the trail loop, I just couldn't. My legs felt as though they were encased in cement, my chest felt as though it was a thousand pounds, and my mind couldn't wrap itself around the fact that my body was betraying me. I stopped and walked, then tried, a bit later to run some more. I think I made it about 1/4 mile before I had to stop again. I cried most of the way to the trail and tried to remember that I had gotten nearly four good months prior to that point. I really did try to remember...

We started walking after that day. Every morning we walked. We kept hiking until early December when that too, became excruciatingly difficult, both physically and emotionally. They used to call me "Jiffy Jen" and all of a sudden, I couldn't hike for five minutes without having to stop and catch my breath. But still, we walked. And walked. And walked an average of 30+ miles a week well into December. With Greg's knee being tweaky once again, he wasn't able to run anyhow, so we kept walking...

2008 brought new energy, between the lack of chemo, the surgery, and the removal by Lasix and draining of entirely too much fluid that my body been holding on to. Amazing, isn't it? The reason my chest felt so heavy is because... it WAS. But not any more. Still, we walked.

Sometime in early March, I was by myself with the pups, and for some reason I thought I might try to run, just a little. So, I did. I went about 1/2 mile, and then I walked. For that day, it was enough. I found myself jogging a bit up hills on hikes we'd take on the weekends, mostly because I wanted to get the hill behind me more quickly, and if I could speed it up a bit, I did. I also tried running a bit in Tucson, but whether it was the fact that I wasn't mentally ready, or because I wasn't used to running without either Greg or the dogs, or maybe the fact that I didn't get enough sleep, it didn't turn out to be my best effort. So, I walked. And as I walked, I realized, again, that I much preferred walking or hiking with the company of Greg and the dogs to running, alone.

Fast forward to this past Sunday morning. We headed out for a walk on the trail loop, and I noticed that Greg had put on some shorts he used to run in, rather than the hiking shorts he tends to wear, but I didn't think much of it. We got out to the turn-around cactus and he asked me, "do you want to try running back?" Ohhhhhhhhh boy. OK. OK... I can do this. So, we did. As I started, I realized that I was running without my mp3 player, which I used to never do before. My mind took me back to when I started running and I would find a soundtrack in my head and listen to the world around me. I heard the dogs panting, I heard the trees rustling, and I heard Greg's footfalls right behind me. About 1.3 miles later, we got to the trail head and it took all I had not to get choked up. Then we walked the rest of the way home.

Before we fell asleep on Tuesday night, he asked me if I'd like to try another little run the next morning. Ok, I can do this again, right? Amazingly enough, both Greg's knee and my everything else seemed to be holding up. Again, I left the house without my music, somewhat surprised that I did it consciously this time, and aware of the fact that the last small run we took came fairly easily to me although I wasn't sure why, and what the difference was between then, and Tucson. Again, I let my mind wander, and I was brought back to the desert runs we were doing after I had started chemo. I remember feeling so strong and invincible, and on one particular run, being extremely conscious of Greg's presence either behind me, or in front of me, wherever he happened to be on the trail at the time. I remember falling into the rhythm of his stride ahead of me, and thinking how symbolic it seemed to me, that I was looking ahead and keeping up the pace. That there was something, someone in front of me or beside me that I was able to head into the next step of this journey with, and that there would be occasions in the not so distant future that I knew I'd need to follow that lead to get me through the day. There were also the times that I heard his footfalls behind me, and I knew that I'd need that, too. That there would be times when I'd need someone at my back to hold me up, to push me along, and to remind me to keep going. And also, to catch me if I fell. Wednesday morning's path took us about 1.8 miles - they always say to build up gradually - and then we walked the rest of the way home.

This morning we did about three miles. Nearly a 5k. Or something close enough. Again, there was no music in my ears other than the sound of my mental soundtrack, but this time I was aware of the reason I didn't need the headphones and why I was able to keep going. His footfalls.

The footfalls beside me that accompanied me to every single one of the 20 weeks of chemo treatments. The footfalls I heard walking through the post-op hallway toward my bed when I came out of surgery. The barefoot footfalls through the house - our house - and the ones that every now and then, dance with me in the kitchen. The same ones that were clad in dress shoes, walking up the stone path in the Nedra Matteucci sculpture garden eleven months ago from yesterday. The footfalls that give me the strength to run again.

Right now, I don't know if I'll ever do another half-marathon. I'm not sure if my PR times are behind me, and I don't know if I'll run or walk this year's Race for the Cure. Right now? It feels pretty good to give it a shot again. As long as I can still hear his footfalls. I know he'd disagree with me, and tell me that I should keep running with or without him but the thing is, I'm not going to break any tapes or win any medals anytime soon. Silly or not, I'd still rather walk or hike together, if we're not able to run, than go it alone. I'll take the footfalls, no matter how fast or slow they are moving.

High praise...

Sometimes I look in the mirror when I am getting ready for work these days, or getting ready to go out, and every now and then I actually see a glimpse of the person I once was. I see energy, rather than listlessness, and light, rather than dark. I see eyelashes - yes, eyelashes! - enough to actually put mascara on these days, and every now and then, if I catch myself off guard, I see someone pretty. Every now and then.

Yet, is this the person I once was, or is she the person I have become? I wonder, sometimes, if I'm so busy "just showing up" and simply "Jen being Jen" that I fail to grasp the enormity of some of the transformations that have taken place beneath the surface. More than once, in the past couple of days, I have received some pretty high praise. I realize I lean towards the humble side most times as most of the things that people are lauding are simply par for the course of a day in the life. What I think I am realizing is what an impact my ability to simply get through the day and still remain the ridiculously eternal optimist has on people. More than that, I am being told more and more often that people have a need to hear the trivialities that I have to say. I still say, "Feh" to that, but perhaps there is a grain of truth.

Today, I was told this:
I'm so proud of how strong a woman you have become. You have had to face more in your short life than many of us face in a lifetime. Your strong will and determination have gotten you through this time when things should have been so different for you. You have found a man who adores you and will always be by your side for love and support. You have set an example for other women to fight everyday to beat the odds that have been dealt you and come out the winner.
Wow. Pretty amazing praise. I'm both flattered and proud of to be thought of like that. I read and re-read it through a smile and some tears, when suddenly the words "...things should have been so different for you..." jumped out at me.

Should they have been?

The thing is, I'm no better than anyone else. I have stupid insecurities, I say insensitive things, I do things I'm not proud of, and I make every effort not to hold anyone else to impossible standards. As I said yesterday, I'm just a small girl in a big world, trying to make sense of it all. For some reason, I was reminded of some country song called She Don't Know She's Beautiful (yes, the grammar makes me cringe) that has been pointed out to me more than once. The thing is, most times, I simply don't know. So it goes.

However, reading the praise that was bestowed upon me today gave me pause once again. Maybe there is some truth to what people are saying. I've always said that if any good can come out of this ludicrous situation, perhaps I can help just one person have a glimmer of hope or allow just one person to realize they are not alone. Perhaps my experiences can make one person look at themselves in the mirror and realize that life is too damn short not to throw your arms around it and take advantage of every day you have with the people you love. Maybe the fact that I'm human and I do let the trivial many get to me sometimes will encourage someone else to be a better person. Maybe someone out there that I've never met, nor never will meet, will come across an entry of mine while doing a Google search for cancer hiking Stage IV and have a moment of faith that perhaps, in fact, all things are possible. Maybe someone out there will discount my ramblings as the senseless drivel of someone who refuses to admit she is a time bomb, but even then, perhaps they will realize that I'm still alive enough to write them.

I think I just fell over the soap box in my way.

Thank you for pushing me.

Can you hear that? It's the sound of the ebb and flow of the normal changing of the tides, not the pounding waves and whitecaps of a storm. I know it may be fleeting, but I feel, for a second, like I can take a deep breath and come up for air. I'd better enjoy it while it lasts...

I find myself stepping outside a whirlwind of visitors and fun and a small vacation and insanity at work and the "same time next year" conference that seems to suck the life out of me and March Madness and moving so fast that I can't catch up with life at times. So (large inhale, huge exhale), OK. I just may be getting a handle on the world around me once again. What on earth happened to the past three weeks???

I survived another Roads and Streets conference. I think this is my eighth year going down there, and after a while it's the same people having the same conversations, drinking the same drinks and it all starts to blur together. In years past I've been part of the planning committee and responsible for moderating sessions, so I suppose this year was a bit of a break in that aspect as I was a mere conventioneer. If only it were that simple. Being in the industry for the past ten years, many, many acquaintances are made and both personal and professional relationships are developed. The past year being what it has been, and my diligent fundraising efforts for the 3-Day, coupled with a concerned, albeit chatty, boss has enabled news of my goings on to have spread far and wide. People I hadn't seen in years, former co-workers, clients, colleagues had heard my story, seen my 1.5 minutes of fame, read my articles... it was honestly nothing short of amazing in a sense. They all wanted to know how I was, what I had been through, what was ahead of me, and when the opportunity arose, would share stories of their own experiences with cancer, or let me know about someone close to them who had been affected. So, there I was, SuperCancerGirl, in the midst of engineers on Spring Break.

I know that each and every person that inquired about my well being, asked questions, or shared stories did so out of genuine concern and caring, and in the big picture, it was all pretty awesome to experience. However, while SuperCancerGirl laughed and joked and smiled and shared her experiences, after the 653rd time, she started to wilt a bit. By the time I got back home? I wasn't exactly the best company, but rebounded after a melt-down.

Ah yes, the melt-down. I DESPISE melt-downs, but I suppose they are necessary every now and then in order to keep my SuperCancerGirl status intact. I've been doing so well at living, and living with everything I have, I nearly forgot, at times, what I was really living with. I found myself once again experiencing the dichotomy of feeling very much BTN (Back To Normal) while at the same time thinking, "who am I kidding?" Sigh. I think it was simply a product of sensory overload.

And then, there's the word "prognosis". Perhaps my aversion to the word comes from the Seinfeld episode where they were going to see a movie called Prognosis Negative or maybe it's simply a negative perception I have for unknown reasons. I looked it up on Wikipedia, and it says this:

Prognosis (literally fore-knowing, foreseeing) is a medical term denoting the
s prediction of how a patient's disease will progress, and whether there is chance of recovery.
Aha. That might be it. I'm not the biggest fan of "predictions" and "chances of recovery" conversations. Ironically, I just had a co-worker tell me today, "Odds are man-made." Uh huh. That's probably why I latched on to The Median Isn't the Message. I realize that statistics are based in reality and focus on a particular study group, and that I happen to be part of a particular study group, but I'm also a firm believer that statistics are constantly changing each time there is a new development, a new drug, a new case study, a new day. Me? I just can't accept the chance of life passing me by while waiting to find out where I fall in that particular study group. But that's another entry entirely.

This entry? This one is about hiking. Or at least it was intended to be.

We hiked this past Saturday morning in South Mountain with TZ. It's the first time we'd been on that trail in quite some time, and just recently, have I begun hiking with people again. The weather was perfect and even though I was a bit tired from the previous couple of weeks, I was feeling good. Better than good. I conquered the hills - and there were HILLS - and once again realized that I was feeling as good as I ever have. Of course, no hike in South Mountain is complete without a breakfast burrito, and as we sat down with our coffees and our burritos, TZ was talking about how nice a hike it was, and how glad he was we had called that morning as hikes are always better with some company. And, as trivial as it may have seemed at the time, while joking about me being a greyhound or a jackrabbit, he benignly said, "Thank you for pushing me. I haven't been pushed on a hike in a while." Wow.

Thank you for pushing me.

Me?? It wasn't too long ago that I was pushing myself to get out of bed each morning and maintain as much a semblance of normalcy as I could muster. Miraculously, I once again find that I'm pushing someone else.
Realistically? I'm just one small girl next to a huge cactus taking in the enormity of it all. Please, shower gods, please, please let this last...

Godspeed, Sweet Roxy...

"Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in. " - Mark Twain

If I had any ovaries, I'd blame it on hormones...

Overdue. I'm long overdue for an outpouring of thoughts, most of them amazed at the wonder of life around me. Right now? I needed a break from work to try and digest what just happened.

I missed a cell phone call from Dr. B, the pulmonologist. A mystery spot in the lung showed up on a scan a few years back, and we'd been following it closely with PET scans every six months. My last one was in April, which came back clean, and I was due for one in October. We all know what happened between then and now...

The nurse had called me because they regularly go through the charts and noticed I was long overdue, and wanted to make sure I was keeping up with the scans, or needed to be seen. I called back, and had to explain that I had, indeed, had a PET scan since April. Two, in fact. And twenty weeks of chemo, one biopsy, one surgery, two MUGA scans, a venous doppler, three chest x-rays, countless blood draws, and by the way, please change my name on the records since I got married last April. And oh, the lung spot isn't even showing up anymore. It's everything else that's the problem. But thank you for checking in on me, I really do appreciate it. Please tell Dr. B to call if she has any questions. Then I hung up the phone. And I lost it.

If I had any ovaries, I'd blame it on hormones...

I don't know why I cried, or perhaps, I was just due. Maybe it was the fact that I was reminded of my last clean PET scan right before everything turned upside down. Perhaps I know that the next one is coming up, and I find myself praying that it will be clean, and knowing that it may not. The shower has become quite the prayer sanctuary, it seems.

Right now? I feel as good as I've ever felt and I'm not going to talk about the fact that I'm scared to death of that ending.

Meanwhile, I still have all sorts of things that deserve air time including Grand Canyon hikes, walks on the rim, eyelashes, the fact that shaving has lost its allure, bed head in the mornings, loving like I never knew I was capable, and baseball season.

Breathe in, breathe out. Live.

Busy. Busy is good, right?

Whew. Nothing in moderation, I suppose...

Work has been ridiculous. I won't even go into the volume of work I have to do in the limited amount of time I have do to it, but it forces me to delegate responsibility for certain things, and that, I suppose, is good. As much as I feel like my hair might catch on fire some of these days (which would be a crying shame, as it's growing and growing), I know that in the big picture, this is good. It's not as though this job is my passion in life, or allows me to make any kind of difference, but the facts are that I work for a good company, with good people, a good salary, good benefits, and it's all located 10 miles from my house. Not so bad, huh?

I shouldn't spend this time rambling about the job, though. Bo-ring.
Well, you asked for it. Photos.

We did the Climb to Conquer Cancer up South Mountain two weekends ago. It was a chilly morning, but beautiful, and marked the anniversary of the first race we ever did together. They used to have a Run to the Sun along with the walk/climb, but that has since fallen by the wayside. This time, we pinked up the pups, to include painting pink ribbons on that silly Nala dog's ears. I continue to be amazed at how tolerant that pupple is at times. We had a great walk up to the towers and on the way back down, took the same trail as the one we did three years ago. We reminisced about how far we've come and how we both knew then, so much of what we've come to know now. We just weren't sure why. And the beauty of it is, we were right. That doesn't happen too often, does it. Eleven miles, and two tired dogs later, we were headed back to the car discussing lunch. At that point, I think I had already come to the realization that it was the farthest I had walked/hiked in quite some time. And more importantly, that I was still feeling strong. Time to exhale.

Last weekend, we hiked with Larry and Jan out in the Superstitions. The last time we hiked in the Superstitions was with TZ right after Thanksgiving. That hike brought me to my knees emotionally, as well as physically. This time? I felt as good as I ever have, and felt compelled to let out an Alice Bell-like "THENK YOU GAAAAAAAAAHD!" more than once. I couldn't do the day justice if I tried to describe it. Warm sun, cool breezes, vibrant yellow and purple and orange wildflowers, glowing chollas, pupples prancing in the streams, and 11 miles later, feeling as strong as ever. I got that feeling I did when we hiked Whitney. I wish I could bottle it and share it. The "there's no way this is going to take me" feeling. No way. I have too much to do.

I made the comment to Greg that if this hike made me feel this good, the Grand Canyon just might cure me. Next week at this time I'll be there. Stranger miracles have happened.

Please, pay no attention to the wind blowing my shirt to provide the attractive look of being a few months pregnant. It really is the wind. And, if you look behind me in the picture to the right, you can see my Chemo Angels. They're really not figments of my imagination, after all. And yeah, it's pretty grey, huh...
I'm hungry. Then, back to the grind...