Finally, surgery

It’s funny now but at the time, we really did feel like we had waited forever for surgery.  In truth, it was barely a month after my diagnosis.  But as soon as you hear you have a malignant tumor, all you want to do is have it removed.  And  honestly given how slow the testing went, the scheduling and surgery went fast.  It involved a few stages (and therefore three separate trips to the hospital plus my pre-surgery physical and chest x-ray).  First I went in and had a blue dye injected into the area where the tumor was.  Dr. T would see which lymph node the dye traveled to first, and that would be the “sentinel node” they removed in the first surgery, called a sentinel node biopsy.  If the cancer hadn’t spread to the sentinel node, then they wouldn’t need to remove additional lymph nodes to check to see how far it had gotten.  This surgery was scheduled for six days before my mastectomy – if they needed to remove more lymph nodes, they’d do it during the “big” surgery on December 12.

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(I don’t know what lymph nodes look like, but I pictured the sentinel node as something like this guy or maybe one of the guards at Buckingham Palace.)

We had been told my lymph nodes looked clear on all the scans, but once they took out the three that were judged to be sentinels, they found the first was clear, but the second had a tumor in it and the third had isolated cancer cells. This wasn’t good news and meant they’d have to take out more lymph nodes to see if the cancer had spread any farther.  In addition to being problematic cancer-wise, taking out a bunch of lymph nodes in your armpit leads to the possibility of lymphedema, which makes your arm swell up because the lymph nodes aren’t there to help move waste through your system (on the plus side, I don’t seem to sweat in that armpit any more).  The presence of cancer in even one lymph node also meant that I was for sure stage 3 and not stage 2 (due to the size of the tumor plus the lymph node involvement).

But, otherwise, we were ready for the double mastectomy now.  The plan was that Dr. T would go first and take out everything she needed to remove including additional lymph nodes, and then Dr. K would come in and put in tissue expanders and close everything up.  The morning of surgery they both came in and took turns drawing on my chest until they could agree on an angle and length of the incision (again due to previous surgery – Dr. K was worried about my skin so wanted to work with the previous scars as much as possible, but Dr. T needed to be able to get to those lymph nodes she needed to remove).  The tissue expanders help stretch the skin until you get the permanent implants – they go in kind of like flat balloons and are filled with saline over time as your skin and muscles stretch to give them more room.  I met the anesthesiologist and got my epidural (supposed to work better for pain relief after surgery), told my sister and husband where a good place was for lunch close to the hospital, woke up in recovery and was immediately wheeled to my room.

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Testing, testing…wait a minute

After we left our first appointment with my surgical oncologist, Dr. T, we at least had a plan of action.  They would set up appointments for me for a consultation with a plastic surgeon and for an MRI, bone scan, and CT scan.  These additional tests would tell us more about the tumor and whether or not cancer had spread.  They said the lymph nodes looked good but they couldn’t be sure about that until surgery, which was tentatively scheduled for the Monday after Thanksgiving.

Due to a mediation I couldn’t reschedule, I wasn’t able to do all of the tests on one day. First, I went in and had the breast MRI done, followed by the bone scan.  I remember thinking that it looked like a lot of lights were going off as the bone scan was being conducted, but I wasn’t sure if that was normal or not.  Still, I felt a little weird after the bone scan.  I went from there to lunch and then to meet my plastic surgeon, Dr. K, for the first time.  I initially thought I’d get a second opinion, but I liked him so much that I decided to just go with it.  He had obviously thought a lot about my previous surgery (breast reduction/lift) and how to deal with those scars during a double mastectomy without causing any skin death.  (Although he did make me cry for the first time that day when he said, “I can only imagine how hard this must be.  It must be especially hard for someone like you who’s used to being the expert in the room in control of everything.”)

The next week I went for my last test, the CT scan.  It ended up lucky that this test was done on a separate day because I had an allergic reaction to the iodine contrast and had to be doped up on Benadryl and driven home by my husband.  While I was there, Dr. T called to go over “some” of the results from my test.  She was surprised that I was in the hospital at the time recovering from an allergic reaction, and I think that’s why she only told me that the MRI confirmed what they thought about the size and location of the tumor.  When I pressed her, though, as to whether she was keeping bad news from me, she said that they really needed to read the bone scan and the CT scan together.

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(This is not me.  But see all the dark spots?  Those are “hot spots” of bone activity.)

Two days later Dr. T called me at work.  As it turns out, there was bad news on the bone scan, which had quite a few hot spots, though nothing showed in my organs from the CT scan.  Some of the bone hot spots were obviously arthritis (mainly my knees and shoulders), and she was surprised when I said my lower back didn’t hurt because I had arthritis there, but she kept saying there was a spot on my sacrum that was “concerning.”    There wasn’t any reason for there to be a hot spot there.  After a few minutes of this conversation I said to her, “I feel like you’re telling me this is probably cancer.”  She paused for a moment.  “It’s probably cancer,” she confirmed.

This was, without a doubt, the lowest I’ve felt so far on this journey.  Surgery was un-scheduled so that I could meet a medical oncologist and have a bone biopsy.  The medical oncologist, Dr. J, wouldn’t say that it was “probably” cancer, but said that the tumor review committee was “baffled” by the sacral hot spot.  It could be a number of things, she said, but she wanted a biopsy to be sure.  And while my chiropractor and internist, who know my running history, both said that it was probably a stress fracture, I was glad that the medical oncologist wanted to rule out any other possibilities.  I got a PET scan too, while we waited, which also came up clean.

There was a lot of insomnia and a lot of tears while we waited for the biopsy results.  If there had been cancer in my bones at diagnosis, I would automatically be stage 4.  I would then not have surgery, but immediately start chemotherapy.  I would be technically incurable.  (Also, I was forbidden to run or do much of any exercise until they figured it out, because if I had tumors that were breaking my bones this would obviously be a bad thing).  I didn’t even tell my husband this at the time, but I knew from my little internet rambling that stage 4 breast cancer at diagnosis has about a 25% 5 year survival rate (as opposed to 78% for stage 3, which is what I have – and I’m on the “better” end of stage 3 so my prognosis is pretty good).

The day before Thanksgiving I got the call we had been waiting for (the waiting is the absolute worst part).  The spot on my bone wasn’t cancer, it was in fact a stress fracture from running.  Surgery was back on the table and it was time to put the treatment plan into action.

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What comes next?

It was never my intention for this post to take so long to write after my “initial diagnosis” post.  Part of the delay is that I still get fatigued, and if I don’t stop doing things when that feeling hits, I’ll end up vomiting.  Weirdly to me, this only happens from work-related things or other mental tasks.  It’s never happened from going for a run or to the gym or being out shopping or whatever.  Tony and I decided that must be because I can slow down my body, but I’m not used to telling my brain to go slower.  So I’ve been working on that, and using my limited energy to do my actual job (which I would really like to keep, both because I like it there and because I have really good insurance).

Anyway, the other part of the delay is that I haven’t been able to figure out how to write this part of the story because it’s all jumbly in my head.  Usually when I undertake any writing, from a brief to a Facebook post, I have an idea in my head of what I want to say and how to say it.  (The post on Facebook where I announced my cancer was drafted in Word first.) With this section of the story, I can’t remember what happened when.  What I mostly remember is being confused and feeling like I was in a whirlwind.  As soon as you are diagnosed with breast cancer, you are sent to a million appointments and tests and plans are made and then changed and…meanwhile you’re still processing that you have cancer and trying to understand the words everyone is using to explain to you what you have, exactly, and what the treatment will be.  Then I decided, maybe letting the next couple of posts reflect that confused state is okay – it’s probably a truer reflection of how I was feeling at the time than a super clear and organized post would be.

So, here we go.  (Geez, I do ramble on, don’t I? Do I ever shut up in person?  Maybe don’t answer that.) Before I hung up with my OB/GYN, she referred me to a breast specialty practice affiliated with the hospital where her office is.  They call themselves “breast specialists” or “breast surgeons” which I find confusing because I also had a plastic surgeon.  So I have a tendency to refer to this doctor as my surgical oncologist.  There are three doctors at this practice, and my OB/GYN recommended either of two of them based on her patients’ experience and preference for a certain type of bedside manner not shared as much by the third doctor.  (This is not me dancing around – this is what she said to me.  Like I said, I’ve had the same doctor since I moved back to Texas so I assumed she meant the third doctor could be kind of gruff or assholish.) After checking them both out online and feeling either’s qualifications were really good, I called and asked for an appointment with either of those two doctors. They said they could get me in faster with Dr. T, so I chose her.  I called on a Friday and they made me an appointment for Tuesday.  Tony and I discussed it and decided two things – we wouldn’t tell anyone until after that appointment when we would know more, and that if I was given a choice I would ask for a double mastectomy.  I have too many friends who have seen a recurrence in the other breast, and given my previous surgery it would be easier to make them both look the same if we just had them both done. Primarily, I knew I would worry less if I just had  both breasts totally removed.

Luckily we had a busy weekend to distract us.  Friday night we had a wedding and Saturday night we had a birthday party to go to.  Monday morning I told my boss (I didn’t actually intend to tell him quite that early, but the opportunity arose and I took it.) . Another lucky point for me – he’s been 100% fantastic about allowing me as much time as I would need (and it has been and will be a lot).

Tuesday Tony came with me to meet Dr. T.   She told me that I had invasive lobular carcinoma, which is not the “normal” type.  Most cancers start in the ducts of the breast that carry milk; mine is one of the 10% that started in the lobules, which are the part that make the milk.  For that reason, they are often larger tumors when they are diagnosed – they tend to start in the back of the breast behind the nipple where they’re hard to see on mammograms.  Mine was one of those that had just grown enough to come around close to the skin – the ultrasound estimated it at 5.5 cm but she said it was likely to be bigger once they got a better look at it via MRI or surgery.  She wouldn’t know the stage of my cancer until further testing but we knew it was either stage 2 or stage 3 – I was at least stage 2 based on the size of the tumor.  If any lymph nodes were involved I would be stage 3.  She told me the lymph nodes looked good but they couldn’t be sure until actual surgery whether or not they were cancer free.  I was estrogen and progesterone positive, which meant my cancer was fueled by hormones.  I was HER-2 negative, which you don’t need to know about except that it was good that I was not “triple positive” as those cancers are more aggressive.  I had a KI-67 score of 44 which she called “medium-high,” meaning the cancer was growing somewhat quickly.  I was grade 3 and pleomorphic, which she described as meaning my cells were really messy compared to a nice, clean non-cancer cell.

Because of all of this, she gently told me that I wasn’t a candidate for a lumpectomy or a nipple-sparing mastectomy.  Everything on the left side needed to go. I think she was relieved that we had already determined to do a mastectomy.  She did say the chances of recurrence were only 5-7 (I think) percent higher if I did a single as opposed to a double. I asked if my insurance had to approve it and she said it was up to me, so we opted to stick with our plan and have the double.  But before we could do that, I needed to meet a plastic surgeon to discuss reconstruction.  I also needed to undergo pre-surgical chest x-rays and a physical and get an MRI, a CT scan, and a bone scan to make sure everything was how they thought it was.  Because Tony and I both liked Dr. T,  because she had a good reputation, and because we knew we wanted the mastectomy anyway, I didn’t feel like I needed a second opinion at this point. I did think I’d probably want one for the plastic surgeon and the medical oncologist I’d meet later.

I asked Dr. T if I needed to make any lifestyle changes in the meantime, and because I wasn’t taking any birth control or other hormones, the answer was no.  I was told someone would schedule the testing I would need and the plastic surgery consult and call me ASAP so we could get it done and surgery scheduled.  Our plan was to go home and call my parents and sister and start to spread the word.   On my way home, I actually got into a car accident, so we decided to delay telling everyone one more day.  My head was spinning with all of the information we had received anyway so I was glad to have one more day to deal with everything. This was also election day – so on the plus side I found I cared a lot less about the outcome than I normally would have (on that day, anyway).  I started to look up some things about what Dr. T had told me online and quickly decided it was better not to know.  In hindsight, one of the accidentally smart things I did was stay off the internet at the beginning of all of this.  I just did what they told me when they told me to do it, and tried not to think too much about what it all meant until I needed to or look up statistics.  Meanwhile, we waited.

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Just the (diagnosis) facts, ma’am

WARNING:  The next few posts are going to contain a lot of medical and other technical stuff, some of which I may not explain exactly right — I’m a lawyer, not a doctor.  Also, I don’t think there’s anything particularly gross in here, but if you’re super squeamish, you might not want to read it.  Finally, given that I have breast cancer, these posts are naturally going to talk quite a bit about my breasts.  If our relationship is such that talking about my boobs makes you uncomfortable, you might decide to skip this part of the blog as well.

Now that that’s out of the way – quite a few people have texted or called me to ask me questions about my diagnosis and treatment, and I know that I personally am interested to hear other people’s stories, so I thought I’d share it all in one place, especially because I know some people are worried that they may be prying and so don’t want to ask.  I figured it’s easier for me, as well, to have all of this somewhere easy to refer back to later.  But it’s turning out to be a pretty long story so this is just part one, which is about the initial diagnosis.

So, first of all, no, I do not have any family history of breast or ovarian cancers.  My mom has five sisters and I have eighty-eleven cousins on that side and none of them have ever been diagnosed with any so-called “female” cancers.  On my dad’s side, my grandmother did have breast cancer but it was well after menopause so they don’t count that as far as genetic susceptibility.  I think, like a lot of women, I assumed that family history is way more important than it is because they always ask you about it.  But the truth is, most women who are diagnosed with breast cancer, like me, have no family history at all.

Second, I did have yearly mammograms – mostly.  I actually had my first mammogram in my mid-thirties, when my OB/GYN felt something at my annual exam.  It turned out to be a cyst; I met with a breast surgeon but decided to leave it alone as it wasn’t bothering me.   A few years later the same thing happened; that time, they actually had me go back in for a core needle biopsy, but it was still nothing. Then I turned 40 and followed the advice to go get yearly mammograms.  At least, I did until last year.  I had seen my OB/GYN in March and everything was normal.  I always get my mammograms six months after my annual exam at the suggestion of a technician I saw a few years ago – that way, she pointed out, you have a professional looking at your breasts every six months, one manually and one with a machine.

Last summer, after my annual exam but before my mammogram, Blue Cross somehow lost two automatic payments sent by my bank and canceled my insurance.  After hours of arguing on the phone and complaining to the Texas Insurance Board, I bought some catastrophic coverage and paid the fine for not having insurance for the last half of 2015.  I didn’t have time to fight them any further, I reasoned.  I also didn’t get a mammogram last year – I didn’t go to the doctor at all between August and December, because my insurance had been canceled and I was busy at work anyway.  I could have afforded to pay for it out of pocket, sure, but honestly I didn’t think it would be a big deal.  No family history and I was only 46 years old.

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Happy in Disneyland  Paris in September, pre-mammogram.  And with boobs!

See, the U.S. Preventative Task Force now says that  yearly mammograms can wait until women are 50 for those of us without family histories.  Even the American Cancer Society says you can wait until 45.  The truth is, almost every breast cancer survivor I know was diagnosed in her thirties or forties.  Still, I think one reason I didn’t worry about missing my mammogram last year was that “new” recommendation that women wait until 50.  Needless to say, I’m now against that recommendation.  However, in fairness, no one can tell me whether or not it would have made a difference if I had gotten a mammogram last year or not because I have a type of cancer that is very hard to spot. (Admittedly, part of me thinks they wouldn’t tell me anyway.  What good would it do to make me feel worse than I already do about missing it?)

So, in January I got my insurance back.  This March I saw my OB/GYN and she didn’t notice anything strange.  Sometime this summer, my husband Tony said that he thought something felt weird in my left breast.  I felt the area he pointed out, and it did feel odd, but it didn’t feel like what I thought cancer felt like.  I was under the impression that cancer felt like a lump.  Most of my friends say it felt like an almond or a marble.  But this wasn’t even a lump.  It was more like a thick spot, maybe kind of a ridge.  I figured it was just the edge of a muscle or tendon, or scar tissue from my previous surgery that we were just now feeling because I had lost 70 pounds.  Plus, I told Tony, my annual mammogram was coming up soon anyway, so I’d just wait and tell them about it then.  It was so unconcerning to me that when I went in October, I completely forgot to tell them about that funny spot.

When I went for my routine mammogram in October, they did the mammogram of the left side twice “to get a clear picture.”  Then they called me the next day to say there was a blurry spot and I needed to come back in for another mammogram.  The second mammogram was read that day and I was immediately sent for an MRI.  As soon as they saw the MRI, they called me at home and told me I needed to come back for a core needle biopsy ASAP.  I think that was the day I finally really looked down at my boob and said to Tony, “hey, has my areola and nipple always been kind of folded in on that side?”  He looked at it closely.  “I don’t know,” he said.  “I don’t remember seeing it before.”

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I had the biopsy (as illustrated above) on a Thursday.  That Friday, we ran away.  We went and spent a last minute weekend in Austin, just the two of us, somewhere we didn’t have to wonder about the test results.  But honestly at this point, I knew.  Something was definitely wrong.  I told Tony I was sure it was cancer.  We just didn’t have any confirmation yet, and the waiting was most definitely the worst part.  We finally got the results of that first biopsy a week later from my gynecologist, who I’ve known for 15 years. “I’m sorry, Elizabeth,” she said gently when I finally got her on the phone.  “It’s definitely carcinoma.”  I could hear the tears in her eyes when she confirmed, “you have breast cancer.”

So – that takes you through the initial part of the story.  Next post I’ll take you through what came next (we literally had not a clue).  What do you do when someone says “you have cancer?”  I think I said, “Oh, okay, thank you Dr. Tillman.”  And then I hung up the phone.  And I cried.

 

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Look good, feel good?

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“Wow, you look great!”  I think this is the most common thing I’ve heard since my surgery.  My doctors are more than happy with how my skin is healing (it’s much better than they expected).  My surgeon came in the day after surgery and actually told me I was glowing.  “You look better than I’ve ever seen you,” she said.  “You look better than the times I’ve seen you in my office.”  (I wasn’t really sure how to take that except maybe fentanyl flatters my complexion.) . Almost everyone who has seen me since I’ve been home comments on how much healthier I look than they expected.

And people have also commented that I am doing well physically.  The nurse at the hospital couldn’t believe I got up and dressed and rearranged my room as soon as they took me off the oxygen and IV and let me out of bed the day after surgery.   Almost two weeks later and I can do almost everything for myself except pick up certain things (Tony had to put my sister’s new dog in my lap today so I could love on her), wash my hair, and drive (I’m still on Percocet, Phenergan and valium, so driving is a no-go).

But the thing is, I don’t really feel fantastic right now.  The thing about breast cancer is I never felt bad in the first place.  Other than my hamstring injury, at the time I was diagnosed I felt 100% fine.  So obviously I have pain from the surgeries, and that sucks, but it’s not as bad as I expected. Other than the nausea from the Percocet I don’t really feel sick now.  The scars and the drains are annoying but they don’t bother me as much as I thought.  And I’ve never been overly vain, although I have taken to wearing hair ribbons for some reason and I find myself putting on makeup more often than I usually do, so I don’t feel as bad as I expected about the lack of boobs at present.   But I do feel bad for two different and unexpected reasons.

Both of the things that are really bothering me right now are apparently perfectly normal and will go away with time, but they’re also the two things I didn’t prepare for.  The first is that I’ve gained 30 pounds in the past month – most of it fluids from surgery (some of it is that the only food I can eat with pain pills and have any chance of not vomiting are carbs and ice cream, so I’ve ingested a lot of graham crackers, milkshakes, and toast with jam.  And, okay, some of it is that I’ve allowed myself more wine than usual.).  And even knowing that I’m sick, and I can’t run, and that a lot of it is fluids….I just spent a year losing almost 70 pounds.  I gained half of it back in a month.  That, my friends, is terrifying.  And I know — I am perfectly aware — that it is ridiculous to have stage 3 cancer and to be the most upset about gaining thirty pounds.  But it makes me feel like last year was a fluke, that I’m not really a runner after all, that next thing you know I’ll be right back where I started and not the person I’ve worked so hard to be. And I can’t fix that right now, at least not in any immediate fashion.

The other thing, the thing that is 100 times worse than being so bloated that my running shoes don’t fit, is that I don’t think I’ve ever felt this stupid in my whole life.  Again, I know it’s the pain pills (although I did ask Tony tonight, what if my brains were actually in my boobs and they cut them out?) but I’m a person who reads constantly.  Instruction manuals. Cereal boxes.  And always, always, I’m in the middle of a couple of books and probably have a magazine or two lying around.  Since my surgery I haven’t read a word.  I can’t.  My brain won’t focus on the words. I’ve tried a couple of times and end up putting the magazine down immediately.  I haven’t even turned on my kindle.  I’ve watched some TV (although I have no clue what happened in the last three episodes of Westworld) and I’ve colored.  Seriously, thank god for the new fad of adult coloring books because it’s practically the only thing I can do.  And it took me a week to color the first picture I finished.  I originally thought I would be able to start doing some work from home next week, and I can’t even read an entire motion right now without losing track of the argument.  Thank God I decided to take off a full seven weeks before going back to the office – I’m still hoping I can do at least some writing work by January, even if not case work.  But right now?  My goal is to finish one article in Runners World without falling asleep in the middle.

I told both my plastic surgeon and my surgical oncologist that I needed to be able to run 26.2 miles by October, because I found out the day after my surgery that I got into the Chicago marathon (whoop!)   I need to talk to my medical oncologist still, because training will depend a little bit on radiation and chemo schedules, but both surgeons not only cleared it but encouraged it.  The surgigcal oncologist and I talked a bit again about my weight history (my cancer is estrogen positive, and fat cells carry estrogen, so it’s more important than ever that I keep my weight down), and she also told me that studies have shown that runners (or other athletes) who continue to run through radiation and chemo have better outcomes and fewer side effects.  And I know from this past year of taking running seriously that it is the best medicine for my brain, as well.

Despite what everyone tells me, I haven’t felt much like Queen Badass the last couple of days.  More like Queen Whiny Ass.  But typing this all out gives me a plan of action.   For now, continue to increase walking and stationary biking every day (these are not at a cardio level, but moving my legs will help get the fluid out).  Check out the gym with a pool that is close enough to my house that I will actually go to it, because two years has proven that LA Fitness is not within my range of convenience, and swimming will be something I can start doing sooner than running, I think.  Keep talking to my doctors about what I can do and when.  Keep taking the pain meds when I need them rather than trying to wean off too soon (which I’ve now done twice).  Pick up a magazine or a book every day and read it for as long as I can. Maybe I’ll pick up some I know almost by heart, like Harry Potter.

Keep being kind to myself.  Keep reminding myself that this is just temporary.  Keep reminding myself that I’m on #teambadass.  And by doing these things, I’ll feel better. And you know, I think that saying is backwards.  It shouldn’t be “look good, feel good.”  Because at least for me, when I feel good about myself, I always look good.

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If I could just go for a run

I think I’ve said this sentence about one thousand times over the past few months.  First when I came home from a PR in Paris and strained my hamstring during a six mile run a week later.  Stretching, cryotherapy, acupuncture, chiropractic, spinning, walking.  Through it all I kept saying, “I’d feel so much better if I could just go for a run.”

Six weeks later I got the cancer diagnosis.  I went and ran two miles as fast as I could that day.  My chiropractor asked me how my hamstring felt.  “I don’t know,” I said.  “I was running so everything would be numb.”

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(Today was the Dallas marathon – I had planned to run the half, but I spectated instead.  I don’t know who these people are, but see how happy they are to run?)

I do have a positive attitude about treatment, but I’m scared, too.  And I’ve cried a lot.  In my car.  In the shower.  At random inconvenient moments.  And a lot of times when I first wake up in the morning and snuggle up with my husband.  And inevitably I tell him, “I just want to go for a run.”

The day of my CT scan and MRI, I had lunch with my running friend Chrissie.  I told her, “I would feel so much better if I could go run eight miles.”  “Why eight?” she said.  I didn’t really know, I told her.

But I do know, I think.  It’s not just about running.  It’s about getting back to who I was before.  This summer I was the healthiest and happiest I’ve been in a long time — maybe ever — and those long run Fridays, up before dawn and out to the Katy Trail for 8 or 10 or 12 miles, those are the days I miss.  That’s what I want back.

I just want to go for a run.  A few weeks ago they feared that the cancer had spread to my bones, and I faced the possibility that I might never run again.  Luckily, it hadn’t.  But still, there’s a long road ahead of me. Tomorrow morning I’m having a bilateral mastectomy.  After that I will have radiation, and probably chemotherapy, and honestly no one can tell me how this is going to go.  I guess in that way it’s kind of like a marathon after all.  All I can do is line up at the start and take it one mile at a time.

I’m taking these three unnecessary things with me to the hospital tomorrow.img_2222The Goofy medal to remind me that I can do things that I think are impossible.  The Paris half medal to remind me of happy things in the world like Paris, and Disney, and friends.  And Danerys because she is most definitely a member of #teambadass.

I don’t know what I’m going to do with this blog, if anything.  For now I just plan to use it to get some of these things out of my head.  It may not be much of a running blog for a while, but it will be.  And I will be a runner again.  Soon.

 

 

 

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Rock n Roll San Antonio recap

Goofy Training

Week 18

(Note: all running times mentioned herein are objectively slow. I am aware of that. So please don’t comment just to point out that I am a very slow runner. Tortoise/hare and all such as. Also, this post is incredibly long and therefore possibly boring.)

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been running alone for most of this season. I purposefully slowed down in order to increase the chance that I’d be able to finish the distance Goofy requires, and my running friends are all faster than me to start with. It doesn’t bother me, usually. I mean it’s nobody’s fault that I’m slower, and it’s nice sometimes to be alone and just let your mind wander. But at the same time, by this time of the season I’m starting to get tired of training anyway. It’s the holidays, and I want to relax and go to Christmas parties, not get up early to run crazy distances and keep bugging people to donate money to my fundraising. And so lately I’ve been thinking, what difference does it make if I go to training if I just run by myself anyway?

Earlier this fall, a few of us thought we’d go to San Antonio and run the Rock n Roll 10k and half-marathon. We had 7 and 13 on our schedule this weekend anyway, so we might as well get some medals for them, right? Well, schedules got tight and it ended up being that only Courtney and I would be able to go, and she could only stay for the 10k and not the half. I talked Tony into driving with me (um, which means he drove the whole way both directions) and we got there Friday night. Courtney and Drew’s plane was severely delayed and for a bit it looked like they wouldn’t make it at all. But they did, and we went to Mi Tierra for margaritas and mariachi and had a great night.

The next morning the guys walked us to the start line for the 10k and then went to Starbucks until time to meet us at the finish. Courtney turned and asked me about my planned intervals for the run. I told her, but shrugged and said, “it doesn’t really matter though, I’ll lose you within a quarter mile or so anyway.” She immediately said, “I don’t mind.” Now Courtney normally runs a lot faster than I do – about 3.5 to 4 minutes per mile faster. So slowing down with me would feel really slow for her. But she did, and she stayed with me the whole way. And maybe because I was conscious of the favor she was doing me, or maybe because I was embarrassed by how slow I really am, or maybe just because someone besides me was there paying attention to what I was doing and I didn’t let myself off the hook – we ended up going about 1.5 minutes per mile faster than I usually do. I love the picture Tony got below of us crossing the finish line (actual chip time was 1:22). I forgot how much more quickly the miles fly by when you have someone to talk to about the Gu Girl and why Courtney really wanted to punch some random lady and what the heck is that person wearing? We celebrated our victory with a pitcher of sangria before Courtney and Drew headed back to Dallas and I took a much-needed nap.

photo 1

So the next day, I was at the half by myself. And for whatever reason I was in a corral with the 2:45 pacers for the half marathon and decided to try to keep up with them for a while. That pace was a little faster than we had run the day before, but the course limits were generous and I figured even if I blew up, I’d still finish.

I kept up for five miles. I knew I’d give up a ton of time on the hills between miles 5 and 7 (they were no joke!) and I did, but I was able to speed back up some after that and by mile 11 I was pretty sure I’d get a PR (personal record). My previous PR was the Seattle half, where I ran 3:10. I even thought that maybe, just maybe, I’d be able to break the three-hour mark, which for me would be big and something I’d had as a “maybe someday” goal. I was really feeling it in my legs and especially my knees by now, and was a little teary as I passed the mile 13 marker. (Yeah, distance running sometimes makes people super emotional.) And then, just as I came down the stretch, I hear, “Liz! Liz! Over here!” and there’s Tony, smiling and cheering and taking my picture and the tears spilled over as I crossed the finish line and got my medals. Official time – 2:54, a 16 minute PR.

photo 2

But the great thing about the races this weekend wasn’t that I ran them faster than I have before. It was that they reminded me why I do this in the first place. Yes, I do it for Angi and to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in her memory, but if it were just about the money I could just make a donation every year.

I stay with Team in Training because at its best, running reminds you of how great it feels to be alive. And I do it because my friend Angi taught me a lot about what it means to be a friend, and what it means to love and be loved in return. And at a time in the season when I haven’t been appreciating those things and the power of a team like I should, my friend Courtney and my love Tony were there to remind me.

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The long cold run

Goofy training

Week  somewhere more than halfway

It was cold at the lake Saturday morning.  Not just Dallas cold, real cold.  And just when it looked like the sun might come out and warm things up, the clouds came back with a strong, cold, wind that blew across the lake so that it felt like you were running into a headwind no matter which way you were going. (The sunglasses on my head in the picture were an attempt to keep my eyes from watering so much from the wind.)

No one else was going to do 18 miles that day for one reason or another, but I had 18 miles on my schedule and no injury or illness or work obligation keeping me from it.  I didn’t want to do it, I knew it would be a long time to be out there in the cold alone and it would mean my coaches would have to wait on me to finish.  But I’ve never accomplished anything by cutting myself slack, so I did the old one foot in front of the other, 9 miles around one way and then turn around and go back the other way.  Done and done.

If I look proud of myself in this picture, I was.

photo

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Hurt feelings

Goofy training

Week fourteen

I have had my feelings hurt a few times in the last week (sometimes I’m a little sensitive). By friends. By clients. By loved ones. And relevant to these posts, by a perfect stranger.

Saturday I was out at the lake and I passed an elderly lady who was walking, who saw fit to inform me that I would never finish a long run doing intervals. I quietly said, “well, actually, I ran a marathon this way.” She snorted, “well, it must have taken you all day.” Um, yeah. Not all day, but as I told her, it did take me a long time. This lady who described herself as a “decades long runner” took one look at me and decided I was clearly destined to fail. (No, I didn’t trip her. I sped up and ran away from any more of her “advice.”)

So today, I really needed this note from another runner: http://rulesforrunning.com/2014/10/28/thank-you-from-the-front-of-the-pack-to-the-back/

I had to try to read this three times before I could do it without tearing up. (Thanks for the share, Jodi!) I’m not a good runner. But I’m still a runner, even though I’ll never win a race, and even if it does take me all damn day to finish.

I’ll never be a top ten fundraiser, either, but I’ve still raised some money for the cause. If you’d like to contribute, the link is http://pages.teamintraining.org/ntx/wdw15/estepp. No amount is too small. And thank you, again, for each of you who has bought a ticket or pjs or donated to the cause over the last few years. I’m not sure I could ever believe in myself if your donations didn’t show me that all of you believe in me, too.

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A great day

Goofy training

Week ten, day four

This is a slightly delayed post since it is now Week 11, day 3 but this season has been flying by! It’s a little scary to realize that the race is in less than three months. On the plus side, I am getting closer to my goal – about $1200 left to raise and thank you all who have contributed! We have one more group fundraiser next week – more on that in a separate post and you may be receiving an invitation from me as well.

On Saturday we had 10 miles to run and it was such a beautiful day. It got off to a great start when my friend Courtney and I were named co-winners of the purple shoe award for fundraising in week nine – we both raised over $1000 in a week (thank you opportunity tickets!) And then in even better news, I won the opportunity drawing! (Fair and square, I promise, I didn’t draw the ticket.) Set off and did a beautiful loop around the lake. It’s a great feeling to run all the way around it.

My emotions go back and forth during training season. I spend a lot of time doubting myself and wondering what I’ve gotten into. But this run was one of those times that I thought, “I think I’m actually going to pull this off.” It’s a good feeling while it lasts!

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