Friday Morning Run 12 Oct

Last long run before taking it easy for Urban Bourbon Half, which is a week from tomorrow.

Distance:  11.5 miles, Time:  1:57:28, Pace:  10:13, Elevation Gain:  386

Good weather:  Sunny, no wind, 42 degrees when I started and 51 at the end

I left at 9am but had a wardrobe malfunction within a block, so I went right home and changed into pants that weren’t going to fall down.  I also realized I was overdressed, wearing long sleeves and a jacket, so I changed into just a tank under the jacket.  Good choice.  I would have been miserable, especially on the blocks where the sun was hitting me.  This was the first chilly morning I’ve run in at least a year, and there will be a learning curve on figuring out how to dress for longer distances.

Black shoes.  Two crumpets for breakfast; two cups of coffee.  I felt okay starting.  Huffy and puffy and not loving it, but by mile 3 I was in my happy spot and around mile 8 I was having a grand time.  Running in cooler weather is leaps and bounds better than hot weather.

Went toward downtown until the ballpark, then back around via Main St, up Baxter, down Grinstead into Cherokee Park, potty stop and water refill at mile 7, around the loop and out the way I came in, then down Cherokee Road and up and down Cherokee Parkway.  11 and a half miles! (I got a ride home the rest of the way from Stuart, who *happened* to driving by on his way home for lunch)  I was getting tired, but body wasn’t hurting.  I feel like I could have done another mile and a half without killing myself.  I would love to finish Urban Bourbon in 2:20 but really the goal is to simply finish.  I guess it depends on how hilly the course is and if I have to make a potty stop.  I will definitely not have two cups of coffee on race day.  Hills on this run:  up Baxter, hill by Cherokee golf course, up to Hogan’s Fountain, up Cherokee Parkway.  The whole second half was pretty hilly, but there were downs after the ups, so it all worked out.  I switched up the intervals and did 2 minute run/30 second walk.  It was fine, noticeably more difficult but not onerously.  I used the interval timer on the fitbit–really nice feature.  Just need to decide what to do for the race.

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This Is A Running Post

This post has been a long-time coming.  A few weeks ago I even had one mostly written, but my computer crashed and I lost it all, which destroyed my desire to write another word for a good long while.

Back in mid-June, around three weeks recovery from surgery, I started running again.  At the risk of sounding Drama, it’s been a bit life-changing, hence this post.

For years, I’ve been a casual, on-again-off-again, I-hate-running runner.  Years ago, maybe five or seven, I went on a running bender that lasted several months.  I put a shelf over the arms of my treadmill, set my laptop there, and binge watched a bunch of tv.  It was winter and I was behind on a lot of shows, so I racked up miles and miles.  Then it got nice out and, not knowing better, I immediately switched to running outside full time.  It didn’t take long for me to develop an injury, first the tensor fascia latae and eventually iliotibial band issues.  So I’d take a week off, pain after a half mile run; take two weeks off, pain after a half mile run.  I could go for a seven-mile walk and feel awesome afterwards; running perhaps was not in my future.  Walking was more time consuming, but I liked not hurting.

Occasionally I tried running again, like last year when I completed Couch25K, but in general, though I seemed to be past the injury thing, I never enjoyed myself doing it.  Between normal seasonal heat and cold and rain and my own innate laziness, I never ran more than a couple weeks in a row.

This spring, I gave it another try.  Winter was cold and therefore rather sedentary, and though another Couch25K was not necessary, I figured I should start easy.  I began by running a minute, walking two minutes in repeated intervals.  Over several weeks, I increased the running in small increments, so eventually I was running two, walking one.  It wasn’t horrible!  And I took Camp.  He was a reluctant running buddy, but it was fun to have him with me.  In mid-April we got Kira, who could run five marathons a day.  He wants to do whatever she is doing, so the running thing looked like it might work out.  Yay, running with dogs!  We were working up to three-mile runs and it was going well.  Yay!  Then I got my diagnosis.

Long, introspective walks felt more therapeutic during those few weeks before surgery.  Recovery went well and by the second or third week of June, I decided to accompany Stuart on one of his morning runs.  He was getting up at 5:15 and trying to run with both dogs, which I knew from experience was challenging.  We only went a couple miles, but I felt great.  Motion is lotion, I’ve been told, and moving was a hell of a lot better than not, especially since I was still limited on how much I could lift and do with my arms.  After a few outings, I was ready for more.  I should probably mention that Stuart, a dedicated weight lifter, prefers his relationship with cardio to be a strictly 30 minute, three times per week arrangement.  He had no interest in going farther than his usual warm-up plus two-and-a-half miles.  Also I thought staying in bed cuddling with Camp sounded much nicer than hitting the pavement at stupid-early o’clock with him and High-Energy Dog.  So Stuart kept going out with Kira and I started running by myself after he left for work.  The dogs didn’t seem to mind staying behind, as long as they got a walk after I got home.

My oncologist told me that the number one thing I could do to prevent a cancer recurrence was to exercise.  Also, two common complaints of tamoxifen are weight gain and aching joints.  Exercise, along with magnesium supplements, is recommended to deal with joint pain.  Fortunately I haven’t noticed any major side effects, but apparently that can change at any time and I really don’t want to ever get cancer again.  So it seemed like a no-brainer to give running more than my usual past efforts.

Because of my history with injury and my desire to have the running thing actually stick this time, I decided to try the Galloway Run-Walk-Run plan, similar to the rhythm I was doing pre-diagnosis.  I started with 3 minute run, 1 minute walk intervals, going for three miles three or four times a week.  I was amazed at how good it made me feel.  The small, noticeable improvements, along with my returning range of motion, made me feel like I was reclaiming my body.  Taking back my wholeness after having my chest cut apart.  I was doing something for me and my health, something that gave me confidence and purpose and a feeling that my old-lady cancer-body was not done yet.

I was so into the running thing that after a month or so I started to flirt with the idea of a half marathon.  This was mid-July and the marathon that caught my eye was the Urban Bourbon Half Marathon, a local favorite on 20 October.  14 weeks to train, and most of the beginner half marathon training programs I looked at were a 12-week time frame.  I was already running (run-walk) three miles and digging it, why not?  I wanted to increase my distance and this gave me an end for my goal of “running more”.

So I bought a second pair of shoes, signed up for a 5K, joined a facebook group of women runners, and even started going to bed early on Friday nights to accommodate 6am Saturday long runs.  I went for a group run with those women runners and found other people doing intervals.  Around then I switched my ratio to 90 seconds run/30 seconds walk.  It was a good choice–I didn’t really need a full minute of walking any more but the heat was making three minutes feel like a lifetime.  I totally credit intervals with being able to run through the summer.  I’ve remained injury free and I don’t dread hitting the pavement, much different than my prior experience!

Also different is not having to wear a sports bra.  Running bra free is a revelation.  Like, I can’t really describe how liberating and wonderful it is.  I remember the first or second time I went out with Stuart and I was so amazed and I asked him if that’s what it’s like to be a guy.  Seriously.  Bras are a necessary evil.  The cute/sexy/fun ones are often barely functional.  Even the well designed ones kinda suck, and though one would think that bra-designers and bra-designing companies would have figured out how to fashion one that is at least moderately comfortable by now, that is not the case.   Not needing to wear a bra at all any more, but especially not needing to wear a sports bra, is the tiniest speck of a silver lining in this whole cancer-getting, breast-losing shit sundae.

Recovery Update

It’s been almost 14 weeks since surgery.

I think of myself as fully recovered–full range of motion in both arms; no more weird nerve perception, that feeling of reaching out for something that isn’t there anymore; no lymphedema, though my risk wasn’t huge, it wasn’t zero; no infection; no zombie effects of general anesthesia; itching gone.  I can lift all the things and do all the things I was lifting and doing before surgery, including sleeping however I damn well please.  Okay, as much as the dogs allow.  I can do yard work.  I even did a few weeks ago!  My backyard looked nice for four or five days!*  I can buy full gallons of milk.  I can go to Costco and not ask for help getting stuff in and out of the cart.  I can carry the vacuum and shave my pits and not constantly worry about doing “too much”.

*fuck you, weeds

I am used to the scars.  They are long and pink.  Smooth.  Graceful.  Not unattractive and though I’m not considering not getting tattooed, I will probably miss seeing the scars so prominently once I do.  I’ll wait until at least next spring before getting inked, so plenty of time for “enjoying” the vast expanse of blank skin, broken up by the two gentle, slightly curving lines that run from my sides to almost meet in the middle.

I am used to being flat.  Or getting used to it.  I haven’t tried on all my old outfits and experimented with placement of scarves and padding of bras, and I probably won’t.  I’m just not concerned with passing for someone who hasn’t had cancer.  It helps, I’m sure, that I was a card-carrying member of the IBTC before surgery and I don’t look drastically different with clothes on.  But it has been something to get used to.  I do occasionally pay mind to how much my scars are poking out of an arm hole (because it is summer and the hot-as-fuck Ohio River Valley, I wear a lot of tank tops).  Some days I care and change my shirt; some days the shits I give are non-existent.  Mostly I just love the ease of not needing a bra.  Chilling at home, all comfortable and unconfined, and need to run an errand?  Just leave!  Seriously!  You don’t have to put on a bra or grab a hoodie or whatever.  Just leave.  I asked Stuart if this is what it’s like to be a guy.  He confirmed.  I feel like I’ve gotten a peek at a secret cabal.  I can’t join, but I got a taste of illicit freedom.

Of course, I look very different without a shirt.  But I don’t hate it.  I’ve described my peace with the scars.  The scars are in place of real curves, 3D curves, with weight and warmth.  Those curves are gone and I miss them.  But they had cancer and I couldn’t keep them.  I am also very much at peace with my decision not to get reconstruction.  Okay, that’s not quite accurate.  I am super fucking happy with my decision not to get reconstruction.  It was absolutely the right decision for me and I know that every day.  Reconstructed boobs would not be my boobs, the boobs I miss, and right now I would be getting tissue expanders filled MORE PROCEDURES or getting ready for exchange surgery ANOTHER SURGERY instead of training to run a half marathon in October (much more on this whole running thing saved for a future post).

The oddest thing is less the visual sparseness and more how I feel, both what my hands experience when I touch my chest and the sensations there.  My chest is obviously flat, but there is no cushion there at all.  At all.  Hard.  A layer of muscle on bone, under skin–like an elbow or a wrist–but a broad plain with ribs and sternum clearly articulated, instead of a sharp point or a small, fine-boned area.  Though the numbness is subsiding, it is still the majority sensation.  It’s like novocaine wearing off after dental work.  Not horrible, but not necessarily pleasant.  It makes me wonder what it will be like in 6-9 months and how it will feel to get tattooed there.

I press my fingers and palms along these scars and the surrounding skin a lot.  Both to gauge my degree of acceptance of this flatness and to familiarize myself.  Cancer is an evil monster and can come back, despite surgery, despite medicine, despite precautions.  Just as this past February, any changes I detect can mean the difference between a treatment that is simple (even if it’s drastic as fuck) and one that requires weeks of radiology and chemotherapy and all the hardship that accompanies them.

I’ve also been on tamoxifen for 7 weeks.  So far, so good.  At least, I think so.  It’s honestly hard to tell.  The main reported side effect is hot flashes.  I didn’t have hot flashes before starting tamoxifen and I still don’t think I’m experiencing any.  I may be getting extra hot at night–I definitely get hot and throw the covers off, then get cold again–but I suspect it is sharing the space with two warm canine bed hogs during a summer heat wave.  I’m also a bit restless at night (trouble sleeping is something people report) but I have been off and on for years.  Some people say they have low energy because of tamoxifen; I often get sleepy mid-afternoon, just as I have for my whole adult life.  Probably has more to do with the amount and type of carbs I consume at lunch time.

Weight gain is another complaint, as is joint stiffness.  Lots of women report that exercise helps the stiffness, and so to combat that and any weight gain that may be lurking in my future, I decided to start running seriously.  But that’s a post for another time.

 

 

I wish writing were as easy as not writing

Warning:  This post contains multiple, egregious run-on sentences and stylized abuse of conjunctions.

Ugh.  So it’s been almost a week since I’ve updated, and I’m like “oh I have something to write about!” and then I’m like “oh shit I’ve got loads to write about” immediately followed by “I have no desire to do this thing”.

Ugh.

I went with a friend to Gatlinburg, TN over the weekend.  We left Saturday early afternoon and returned today (Monday) mid-afternoon.  Less than 48 hours.  She went because her daughter had a dance competition there and I went because she wanted some adult companionship and I enjoy her company.  We did a similar thing last year, just in Myrtle Beach and for a longer stretch of time.

It was my first time in the Smokies other than driving through.

Fucking gorgeous.

Stuart and I lived near mountains when we were residents of Seattle a million years ago and we ventured occasionally into the Cascades and we could see the Olympics fairly often.  I had forgotten how primal mountain ranges are…how they overwhelm when you are in the middle of them.  When you live in a city and your house is like around 100-120 years old and that’s pretty old for most of the stuff around because everything else is a road that was repaved two years ago (already is buckled and cracked) and a shiny sign (replaced to look more trendy) and freshly planted sod and then you drive through a mountain range and your ears are poppin’ and you look around and everything is ancient, more old than you can really wrap your head around, your life is put into a humbling kind of perspective.

I’ve already lived through the head scratching, chin stroking “life is everything/life is nothing” thought experiment/existential despair that happens when one eats acid or survives an accident/illness or gives birth etc.  Most of us who lived past 30 have gone through some version.  Being in the mountains though is stop-you-in-your-tracks level of “you, in all your amazing human potential, are but a dot compared to what these hills have lived through”.

Could be on account of growing up in Wisconsin.  The Dairy State has some excellent rock formations because of the Ice Age (not the movie) dumping a bunch of terminal moraines all over the state, but for the most part it’s kinda flat.*  Whatever the reason, mountains impress me, and the Smokies are amazing.

*not like Illinois flat

Gatlinburg is the Tennessee version of Wisconsin Dells.  If you don’t know what that means, educate yourself (*ahem* count yourself lucky).  It is a mix of kitsch and cheese (figurative for Gatlinburg, literal for the Dells) and trash and fun and the best of the local surroundings.  It is a tourist trap surrounded by cloud-shrouded hills and towering trees and breath-stealing beauty.  It’s America, all its contradictions and weirdness and loveliness.

So I’m home from Gatlinburg and unpacked and back into the heat and humidity (hottest heat index in the entire country!).  Reunited with the dogs and Spouse and Spawn.  And realizing that I should have started this two hours ago.  Posts about cancer** and books*** will have to wait.

**started tamoxifen today

***facebook book meme

I wish writing were easier than just not fucking writing.  Not fucking writing is so easy.  Not fucking writing is my default.

I need to change that.  Hopefully that will happen because I have been doing so much interesting relevant stuff and not because I’m dying of T side effects.

I am, forever, a work in progress.

Good news from the oncologist

Appointment with my oncologist today and I finally got my oncotype score.  This is a test done to figure out what a woman’s risk of recurrence is and to determine whether or not she will benefit from chemotherapy.

Good news for me!  My score, 11, is really low.  That means not only no chemotherapy, but more importantly it means that the likelihood of me staying disease-free after five years is basically as good as anybody else.

I have to take tamoxifen, a hormone blocker, for 5-10 years.  I am hoping that I am not one of the women who get hideous, life-altering side effects.  This is a life-saving drug; also I don’t want to have to take a bunch of meds on top of this in order to tolerate it.  But for now, I’m happy that my prognosis is good, and I will take things as they come.

In addition to this news, my recovery is going great.  No pain, range of motion getting better daily.  I can lie on my side for longer periods of time, which is making sleeping easier.  I’m getting used to the scars and flatness.

Four weeks after surgery

I hit the four-week mark today, so I guess I should write something.

After the first two weeks of near-daily noticeable progress, the most recent two weeks has been more of a plateau, one that has at times been rather frustrating.

I started physical therapy exercises, designed to restore strength and flexibility after this type of surgery.  It took awhile to find the sweet spot of doing them, yet not ending up hurting.  It was kinda rough for a week and a half!  I was in more pain any time since the first two days after surgery.  I feel like I finally turned a corner now though.  The middle of my chest and sides/underarms feel almost neutral, which is a huge improvement just since the past couple days, when I had frequent sharp, burning pain in those areas.

It’s just been weird, feeling like I’m kind of floating along on my own with all this, not really knowing what is on the spectrum of normal and what is cause for concern.  I called the surgeon’s office once, hoping to get some guidance about the PT stuff and just generally how much pain is typical, fully acknowledging that everyone is different etc.  I was transferred to a Nurse Navigator, an expert in all things breast cancer.  It was not a good phone call.  Not helpful in the slightest.

I decided that talking to other women would probably be best, so I went to a breast cancer support group yesterday.  It was pretty awesome.  Lots of veteran survivors, a couple Nurse Navigators, and another woman who is just slightly further along in recover than me (her surgery was in April and she has already started tamoxifen).  And I realized that the reason that there has been so little follow up from the surgeon is that typically at this point, a woman is under the care of the plastic surgeon, not the surgical oncologist.  This doesn’t apply to me.  So I decided that I would call the breast surgeon’s office back and explain that I didn’t have another surgeon to release me to lift more weight and go swimming and that type of stuff.  But then today, I felt really good, best in days (weeks!) so we’ll see.  I guess I should at least call and ask at what point I can carry a vacuum around the house and can start buying full gallons of milk instead of the less-heavy half gallons.

My range of motion is definitely getting better!  I can wash my hair without having to hang my head down.  I went today to a u-pick farm and picked ten pounds of blueberries, with lots of reaching and up-and-down motions.  Somewhat concerned that I would be back in Pain City this afternoon, but I feel okay.  And this is after getting up at 5am with Stuart to get the dogs some exercise before the sun came up.*  We did a two-and-a-half mile brisk walk, probably longest and briskest in four weeks.  It felt good (other than being fucking hot) and I think I’m probably ready to resume my daily morning 5-6 miler.  I probably will start solo and work up to bringing the dogs with me.  As I believe I’ve mentioned before, Kira is a puller.**  I think I’ll be able to handle her after not too long.  What we really should do is spend serious time training her not to pull.  Ugh.  That is a topic for a much longer post though.

*Y’all it’s so fucking hot hot-as-balls-hot 80-degrees-at-7am-hot

**She, at 35ish pounds, pulls harder than either of my untrained, 150-lb Irish Wolfhounds ever did

So pain easing, range of motion improving, energy level good.  The surgical glue that covers my wounds is finally starting to peel off.  Unfortunately I’m one of THOSE people who like to pick at and fuss with things like that.  AND IT IS SO ITCHY.  I read somewhere online that you can smear neosporin on the surgical glue to encourage it to come off.  I might do that; then I can put some cortizone-10 on there and hopefully get some relief from this crazy itching.

 

 

 

post of whining

If May was the month of sadness and fear and surgery, June so far is the month of annoyance.

The first two weeks after surgery consisted of daily doses of progress and the accompanying good mood and hopefulness.  The past week or so is more one of stasis.

Not that stasis is bad.  I’d rather mostly stay the same than get worse.  The drains were an extreme pain-in-the-ass, and with their removal I don’t really have a concrete, this-can-happen-any-day-now goal post.  I actually had measurements and a chart that gave me a definite numerical thing to work toward for the first almost two weeks.  Now I just have an amorphous “recovered” to look forward to, and I don’t know when I can expect that to happen.

I’m getting better, able to reach more, farther.  But I’m still careful not to lift much.  I’m dependent on Stuart carrying the full laundry baskets and the vacuum up and down the steps, still asking him to dig the stand mixer and the Cuisinart out from the pantry and set on the counter before he leaves for work.  I still can’t walk Kira, the pullingest dog I’ve ever met, much less owned.  I still can’t lie on my side.

I still can’t do any yard work.  I’m pretty sure the act of pulling weeds or hoeing would result in pain like I haven’t felt yet.  Digging holes, not happening.  Trimming the wisteria, giant nope.  We’ve had a fair amount of rain recently and the growing things are bordering on out-of-control.  I am an inconsistent gardener at best, so this is not without precedent, but usually by now I’ve started to get my act together and minimally tidied up a flower bed or two.  I’ve had a few friends offer to come and help me with some of this, but I know because of the rain, they must have their own yards and beds and gardens to deal with.  I think I may just hire someone.

I know that this is all temporary and will get better.

I can be patient about regaining strength and mobility–it will come and the yard and the house and everything else will still be here.  But what I’m most constantly annoyed by, like a persistent mosquito-buzz in the ear, are the sensations happening on my torso.

It isn’t always painful.  I’m not miserable all the live-long day, though in the morning, when I first get out of bed, the center of my chest could probably accurately be described as a five on the pain scale.  I still get sharp twinges that last a second or two, no big deal.  What is driving me nuts is the tightness across my chest and especially in my right armpit.

It’s kind of an itchy burning.  Not painful, but definitely uncomfortable.  Here is what it feels like:

Imagine, if you will, someone takes a long piece of scotch tape and stretches it across your underarm.  If you are a person who doesn’t shave your armpits, pretend, for the sake of this comparison that you are in fact an armpit-shaver.  So you and your bare underarm are just hanging and some evil prankster comes up and somehow gets you to lift your arm and before you can react, they stretch a long piece of scotch tape up under there and pull it tight and tell you that if you take it off, a puppy will die.  So that’s what it feels like.  Pull-y and itchy and uncomfortable and super NOT RIGHT.  And if you move certain ways you feel like if you could crawl out of your skin, you would in a hot second.

Also irritating, though not quite to the above degree, are the places where the drains came out.  I have two bumps, one on each side of my ribcage, where the tubes exited my body.  I can still feel a long, raised ridge where the tube went up under my skin to the chest area.  The skin all around that is dry and intensely itchy from the wound dressing that was there for the first week (I wonder if  I’m sensitive to the adhesive, cause my skin went crazy train when the dressing came off).  Lotion helps but only for the first little while after application.  I tried going for a short run recently, but the whole area where the drains were was immediately sore, which I took as my body telling me to sit the fuck down.

On top of everything I have a canker sore on the side of my tongue.

So yeah.  I want to be back to normal.  I want to be productive again, but more than that, I just don’t want to be continually uncomfortable.

Okay!  Enough whining.  Time to go get some body lotion.