Friday, August 1, 2014

Expect the unexpected

We visited family back east this week. The theme in my life most recently has been to expect the unexpected. The day before we flew out, I had planned to get up early and get in one last fairly long run on dirt before heading to the land of road running. The roads are not kind to my bones.

Monday morning I got up and took our ten year old bullmastiff out for a walk. She had seemed a little gimpy in the preceding days but was getting around ok, until Monday morning. We walked to the house at the end of our block and she just stopped. After a couple of minutes, she laid down and would not move. The dog weighs as much as I do. I could not pick her up and carry her.

 I was kicking myself because if I had had treats, she would have followed me home easily. Thankfully, I had my phone. I called the house and had Peyton bring treats so I could get Greta back to the house. We had someone coming to stay with Greta during our trip because she is just too old to send to a kennel. I needed to get Greta to the veterinarian that day. I also needed to finish packing, get the house in order and take one of my kids to a doctor's appointment in the afternoon. Oh, and did I mention that I wanted to get in a long run?

So, I ended up breaking my run into three shorter runs and logged 20 miles for the day. It was not optimal and not how I wanted to do it but I really had no choice. At least I did not totally bail, which I thought about doing. Even more importantly, I got everything else finished that needed to be done. None of it was perfect, but then again, would it ever have been?

We were up before 3 am on Tuesday morning and left our house at four am. Here is a warning: I am to discuss something that may make some people squirm but I do not care. I promised myself when I started writing my blog that I would be honest about my experiences and this is an important one. My periods stopped in January with my very first round of chemo. Because I was 45, I was very uncertain as to whether or not they would come back. 

When I have mentioned to people that I was not getting my period or that I no longer had to shave my legs, people usually responded that I was lucky. I did not feel "lucky", though. It was not the end of the world but I wanted my body to function the way it was supposed to function. I find a sense of comfort in knowing my body is working properly even though it may be inconvenient at times. 

Furthermore, I have known many female athletes who have told me that they slowed way down after menopause. I have never been one who has had to worry about making cut off times, but there is a reason why there are so few women competing in the older age groups. They just slow down. It is a reality, not for every woman, but for a lot of them. Beyond the speed and endurance factor, I look to my circulating hormones to protect me from osteoporosis, which runs in my family. 

Just as I was getting ready to board the plane on Tuesday, the unexpected happened again: my period started. I was thrilled beyond belief, but I had no supplies. I scrounged up 50 cents and bought a tampon in the airport bathroom. By the middle of our first flight, I had soaked through the tampon and all over my clothes. I was a complete mess. I had nothing else to wear. Did you know that airports sell tons of t shirts but not so many pairs of shorts? I went from feeling thrilled to feeling humiliated and sad. Hadn't I experienced enough indignity? 

This is the thing with illness and bodily functions. People feel very uncomfortable discussing them. My running friend T and I have had many conversations about menopause. Whether it is chemo induced or occurs naturally, it makes others uncomfortable to think about it or talk about it. Every single woman will eventually go through menopause. By avoiding discussing it or pretending like it does not matter, we lose out in the chance to learn from one another. If no one talks about it then we feel alone in our experience. We can help each other get through these things by being brave enough to get them out in the open. Ask questions, learn from hide who have been through it and share what you learn with other women.

The truly lowest point for me during chemotherapy was when I had to go to the hospital because I was severely constipated. I was in so much pain that I had been unable to leave my house. The nurse was concerned that I had an obstruction. I was in excruciating pain and was absolutely humiliated. When we got to the hospital, I told my husband, "NOW I feel sorry for myself!" This was the ONLY time during treatment that I felt genuinely sorry for myself. This was one of those things I just had not expected and when it happened, I was completely thrown off guard. I came to find out later that it is one of the most common chemo side effects but people do not want to discuss their bowel movements publicly. Truthfully, neither do I, but I think it is important to do so. Illness is not pretty. Illness is hard for the patient and the caregiver. We always want to see ourselves as young and healthy and strong. In reality, we all hope to live long enough to be considered old. We hope we will continue to be strong and healthy in old age but it does not always work that way. There is a lot about growing older that is undignified, but it should not be a source of shame.

I hope other women will share their menopause experiences. What happened, how it was dealt with, etc. I also hope cancer patients will talk to other patients and care givers about all of their experiences, not just fatigue and hair loss. We have he ability to help others by sharing out own reality. If we are silent, we lose out on the opportunity to give the gift of knowledge and experience to others.

So far, in NY, my husband and I have run together. We have gone to Lake Placid. We have visited with friends and family. It feels good to be "home". I am grateful for the opportunity to reconnect with so many people who I love. I do not feel particularly good about how I look these days but who cares? I feel tired, I am tired and I look tired. I am not as fit as I used to be. But I am not going to hide out and not live my life. I will take pictures with friends and family and I will be grateful that we all made it another day to spend time together.

It does feel a little weird to try to boil down my cancer experience to a five minute synopsis. It is almost a surreal feeling to know that there are people who know and love me who don't really know what the last 10 months have been like. How can I ever really explain what has taken place? How I feel, how hard it has been for the children and my husband, how it feels to feel sick every day but to keep going because that is who you are. The emotional side is a whole other aspect that I just do not know if I will ever be able to fully put into words, but I will keep trying because I want people to understand and because I want other people facing their own demons to feel like they are not alone. 

I will close with some pictures from upstate NY.
Lake Champlain

Lake Placid
One of my best friends from high school. We try to see eachc other every time I am back home and I am grateful for our enduring friendship.
Here is a lady I used to teach aerobics with in my previous life. We reconnected and faced some significant challenges at the same time. She is strong and tough and kind and I am so thankful that we could talk to one another about simply everything. While our circumstances were quite different, I find comfort in knowing we understand one another.

Scenes from our run 


  1. Not sure if you want to hear that I am giggling with you in regard to all the humiliating body related things I could share with you that happened during the height of dealing with Graves Disease and the cancer stuff. We could get some good laughs exchanging stories about BM abnormalities... Mine consisted of getting hit with extreme urgency coupled with diarrhea "you've got to go NOW - do not pass go, do not collect $200" urgency. Not too convenient, at times, when running or riding. Sometimes it just didn't matter who was nearby. Yes, I understand the complete definition of "humiliation". Ay carrumba - yes we could comfort each other! :-) I didn't have a monthly visitor for about 4 months after radiation but it came back. Surprise! With all the things our body goes through with cancer itself, surgery, treatment, etc., sometimes it just takes time to recalibrate and heal. I have heard that chemo and radiation can push a woman into early menopause but I am not there yet and I am a few years older than you. Don't give up yet - your body has been highly traumatized and it will take time to heal and recover. We NEED to get coffee when you get back so we can talk! Enjoy your trip! How is Greta, btw?

    1. Illness is so humbling, isn't it?! It is great when we get to the point where we can look at it and laugh! Yes, we need to get coffee! Greta is doing well, which thrills me. Every day we have with her is a gift right now!

  2. Brave and lovely post, Tonia. I'm so lucky to know you.

    1. Thank you for you continued support, Brendan. I am lucky to know you also!