Thursday, August 27, 2009
This will be Cookeville's inaugural Race for the Cure, and my running buddy, Dallas (TN), was the one to encourage me to participate. I'm glad that he did. Even he commented on Facebook that I was giving up a weekend to run a marathon or an ultra so that I could run this race. But, honestly, I'm looking forward to it. It's a new challenge and a different adventure. I even signed up for the competitive division, which only means that I'll get a chip for official timing and placement in the results.
Now, I have less than 2 months to incorporate some speed training. I don't do speed work, lol. I turn my nose up at the whole concept. It's not fun. I feel like I'm going to pass out. My VO2 Max must be non-existant. My heart wants to explode from my chest. The last time I did speed work I pulled a hamstring that took months to heal. I have no practice in running all out. Can an old dog be taught new tricks, lol?
My goal is to finish the 5K in under 30 minutes. That means that I can't take any walk breaks. It's been a long time since I've run a race where I didn't walk at all. Ten minute miles is easy and slow for most runners; it's pedestrian pace for the elite. For me, I'll feel like the Road Runner from the old cartoon if I can pull it off.
I signed up for the Race for the Cure in Nashville, TN in 2003. I never even made it to the start line. My friend, Sharon (TN), picked up my race packet for me and brought it to the hospital, where I was laid up from experiencing blood clots in my left lung. I was about 4 weeks into radiation treatments for my breast cancer, and unfortunately, the radiologist "over-radiated" my chest. Thinking I had heartburn that would eventually pass, my running buddy, Joe (TN), and I went to a 10 mile race the day before the Race for the Cure. The minute I started running, shock waves of pain went through my body. An ambulance was called, and I was taken to the hospital. Five days later, with the blood clots dissolved, I was released from the hospital. Through the years, it had not even occurred to me to sign up for another Race for the Cure.
Six years later, here's my chance to redeem myself. The crazy thing is that I was probably in better shape then than I am now. Back then I was slowly rebuilding my mileage, doing the shorter races so that I could get back to running marathons. At that time, running ultramarathons was still a dream of mine.
So, speed work it is. Nothing mind blowing - once or twice a week on the track so that I can judge my progress. Nine to 10 minute miles is the goal. I've done it before, so maybe I can do it again. I just have to sustain that "speed" for 3.1 miles. That's as easy as a piece of chocolate cake, right?
Friday, August 21, 2009
I don’t think we’ve run any of the same races this year. I was expecting to see you at the Viaduct Trail 100 Miler in Pennsylvania a couple of weeks ago. I called Charlie to let him know that I had again DNF’d another 100 miler, but more so, to tell him that you were not there.
The last time I saw you was at the Mother Road 2. You had given me an extra pair of gloves and a jacket to keep me warm towards the end of the race. I wasn’t moving fast enough to stay warm, but I finished. You had cried at the table where we were all gathered to eat breakfast. Some of us had finished, and some of us had a bad day at the office of our choice. I’ve thought back to that day often and wondered what made you cry on such a wonderful occasion.
Charlie had told me that you had lost a lot of weight. He’s so small, I thought, that he can’t afford to lose even a pound. But I figured you were running doubles and 100 milers with fervor, and that kind of schedule just takes it’s toll on one’s body.
Imagine my anguish when Charlie sent me a forwarded e-mail that he received saying that you were in a hospice with liver cancer. I am speechless. I am so sorry, Paul. I had no idea that you were sick. Having metastasized breast cancer to the bones, we are sister and brother against this unbearable and horrible disease. I realize that your struggle is a lot worse than mine, and my heart goes out to you. I wish that there was something I could do or say to make it all go away.
You are such a great runner. I always wondered what made you so strong, that you could run all of these long races back-to-back. I’ve tried, but I can’t seem to do it as well as you do. So, to me, it doesn’t make sense that someone like you who is physically and mentally strong should ever have cancer. It’s not fair.
There is no answer for the “why” question. God knows best. I know that you are a believer. Continue to be strong and to have faith.
Take care, my friend.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Now if you noticed, the name of the race is spelled differently from the name of the park. It is not a typo. I wish I had a story to explain it, but for two years in a row, I've forgotten to ask Dan, the race director, why that is, lol.
In the race packet is a t-shirt and a hooded sweatshirt. The finisher's award is a medal and a huge, thick, hot pink bath towel with the race name embroidered on it. I love the towels that Dan gives the runners. I have 2 brown towels from last year when I ran the marathon and the Wild West 100K, which is held at the same location.
I talked with my running buddies, Eugene (CT) and Cathy (NY), before we started. After the start, I quickly lost track of Eugene. He's been having some back problems lately, and he's been known to go off-course (i.e., get lost) at some races, so I'm not sure which situation kept him out of the results. He successfully finished the Lean Horse 50K the following weekend, so at least I know he's okay.
Cathy and I would spend the day together. Since there was no cut-off, there was no pressure. Cathy runs an evenly paced race, so I was determined to keep up with her. She runs one minute and then walks one minute. On this course with the rolling hills and trails, we would deviate from this routine periodically to walk the uphills and to take advantage of the downhills.
It was hot but not very humid. Most of the course that is on the roads and exposed is run in the early part of the race, while most of the trail sections with the canopy of trees for shade is run in the afternoon when the temperature really starts heating up.
We started on the road and went up a short hill passing through the first of 3 covered bridges. We then follow rolling country roads for a few miles. At some point, we saw 3 deer cross the road right in front of us. Cathy said they represented her daughter and 2 of her friends that have succumbed to cancer. Respectfully, we said hello to the deer, who were now hiding in the woods as we passed by them.
We hit a rolling dirt/gravel road next, and covered bridge #2, followed by some beautiful trails, before emptying back onto the road. After the short road section, we are on the trail leading back to the start/finish area. The relatively flat, rockless, and rootless (are those real words?) trail circles the lake where locals are fishing and swimming. We then cross covered bridge #3 and are back at the start/finish area.
Just as we are leaving to start the 2nd loop, Chuck (OH), a fellow 50 Stater and Marathon Maniac, won the marathon in 3:20:22. Chuck finishes and wins road marathons in the 2:30-2:50 range, so that gives you an indication that the hills on this course are no joke. The fact that Chuck was finished and we still had 13 miles remaining indicates that his speed is also no joke, lol.
Cathy and I headed back out onto the course. The 2nd half is mostly on the North Country Trail. It is my favorite section. As we went back uphill to the 1st covered bridge, I was getting excited. We turned onto the gravel/dirt road which steadily continues uphill for a couple of miles, and then I saw the chalk markings leading us into the woods onto the trail. The North Country Trail runs 4,600 miles through 7 states. It's on my list of things to do when I retire, lol.
Once we hit the trail, I was in heaven. It's single track with just enough roots and rocks to keep it interesting. There were several pine tree sections. Running on the pine needles felt wonderful under my feet. I don't even mind the power line section which has several sandy areas. As I led us through the trail, I could hear Cathy's watch signaling the one minute intervals, but we were ignoring it and running when we could and walking when we couldn't run.
Too soon we were back onto a rolling country road. We passed another runner along this section, who was not carrying a water bottle. He did not look happy, but he was still moving forward, so we went on. We had less than a 10K to the finish, so he would make it.
Once back onto a trail section that we had covered in the first loop, we passed another runner that didn't seem too happy. He, too, was not carrying a water bottle. It's too hot; aid stations are every 3 miles; and we're on a hilly course with trails. I just didn't understand why some runners did not heed Dan's instructions about carrying a water bottle.
We returned to the short road section leading back to the last portion of the trail section around the lake. We were ending a wonderful day, and I was as content as I could be. At some point, Cathy stated in disbelief that I had returned to this race after running it last year. I laughed and told her that I'd be back next year as well. She stated that she probably would be, too, lol.
Cathy won the female grand master's division in 7:15:54. She received even more swag including a polo shirt, jacket, and a bottle of massage oil (for hard working muscles, of course). My finishing time of 7:15:55 was about 40 minutes slower than last year, but last year I ran this race completely alone. Thanks to Cathy, I enjoyed this year's race much more.
Note: A few days later, I received a certificate with my official finish time. Dan also included a nice finish line photo of Cathy and me looking like the trail divas that we are, lol.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Although the foot pain is bad, the groin pain is worse. I would rather stand for hours than to sit for 15 minutes at a time. When I stand after sitting, I can barely move. The start of a walk is an exercise in patience. I start off limping, placing most of my weight on the sore, right foot, until I work out the kink in my groin. After a few steps, the pain eases off until it is barely noticeable. Laying flat on my stomach or back doesn't cause any problems with the groin, but the foot protests. Pain relievers have done little for the foot or the groin.
I just assumed that the new pains meant that I had new cancer sites. That's how it's been in the past 2 years. And I just knew that my scans would show that the bone cancer was continuing to spread. My oncologist recently switched my scans from every 3 months to every 4 months, so it's been a while since we've discovered any new sites.
On Monday, I had the bone scan. I went to the hospital to have a radioactive substance injected into my arm. For whatever reason, we can never use the port for the radioactive substance, so as usual, this turned out to be an ordeal for the medical technician. She couldn't find a good vein, missed the one that she thought she could get, and then proceeded to move the needle around inside my arm, trying to find it again, before finally giving up. She pulled the needle, found a "child's" needle, and mumbled something about injecting the radioactive substance slowly due to it's smaller size. I'm so accustomed to medical personnel missing my veins that it doesn't bother me at all. The medical technician is more distraught than I'd ever be. I guess they feel that they are the professionals and that they should get it right on the first or second try. I always try to assure them that it's not their lack of skill but the lack of cooperation of my small veins.
She now looks at the back of my hand. When they give up on my arm, they always go to the hand next. In the past, I have even been asked to be prepared to take off a shoe, because that would be the third place to try a needle stick - in the top of my foot. She asks if I've had lymph nodes removed from my left arm. I tell her that I have. She nods and jokingly says that's probably where I'm hiding my good veins. I agree with her, even though prior to lymph node removal, no one could get those veins in that arm to cooperate either. I am never to have needle sticks or a blood pressure cuff applied to my left arm due to the removal of lymph nodes. It has something to do with the inefficient transfer of fluids through the body with fewer available lymph nodes, which could cause swelling and a build up of bacteria in the arm.
She finds a vein in my hand that she likes, sticks the smaller needle in, and misses. She again starts to fish around for the vein. I then feel a slight pinch. I look down and see the blood return. She's found one. Did a look of relief just run across her face? She now injects the substance (slowly, as she stated before), and once the tube is drained, she removes the needle and applies a bandage. She tells me to drink lots of fluids, to urinate as much as possible, and to come back in 3 hours. That means that I can go back to the office and work for a couple of hours.
Bone scans take about an hour. When I return, I am immediately taken back to the nuclear medicine area and asked to empty my bladder one more time. The medical technician then takes me into the room with the scanner, and I lay on my back on the table, resting my head on a pillow. She binds my feet together and places a hard cushion behind my knees so that my legs are elevated and slightly bent. For the first part of the scan, my arms rest along my side, and for the second part, I will raise my arms above my head. The machine is very quiet, unlike an MRI machine, and slowly scans and takes pictures, starting from my lower body and finishing at the top.
On Tuesday, I have the PET and CT scans. I really hate these because of the two bottles of contrast that I have to drink prior to my appointment. I've had all of the different flavors (apple, berry, plain, and vanilla). Banana is the exception. I cannot stand the taste and smell of bananas. No matter the flavor, however, the stuff is still nasty. I often wonder what drinking barium is doing to my body. It's probably causing as much damage as all of the radiation, but I can't argue with a necessity. I sip one bottle while getting dressed and sip the second bottle on the drive to the medical office, finishing up as I park the car. I sit there for a couple of minutes, trying to keep from throwing up 2 bottles of contrast. This is always a struggle.
There are a lot of people in the waiting area, and it's not even 8:00 a.m. I learned years ago to always have something to read while I wait. That way, I don't feel like I'm wasting time. I have stood in long lines for various reasons, and while everyone around me was grumbling about having to wait, I was perfectly content reading a good book. I never get to the level of being anxious, and I can pretty much tune out everything around me while I'm reading.
I'm finally called to the back, so that they can start an IV and inject another radioactive substance. Again, they can't use the port. My arm and hand are bruised from the prior day's attempts, so the medical technician searches for available veins in the forearm. He finds one, but of course, he misses also and thus begins the fishing around for the vein. I feel the familiar pinch, see the blood return, and watch the substance go into the vein. He tapes the needle down so that it can be used again during the scan. I'm asked several questions about surgeries, my breast cancer, my mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, blood disorders, and a list of other medical problems, that I'm grateful to not have. It's a new facility that they've sent me to, so it's like starting all over with the medical history. I'm wondering why they just didn't forward over my records from the other PET/CT facility, but I don't ask.
At the other facility, I'm usually left alone to lie quietly with the lights off, while soft music plays in the background. They give me a pillow and blanket, recline the chair, and tell me to relax for 30 minutes. I am not to read, I'm told, when they notice my book. However, this does not happen at this facility. They leave me for about 15 minutes (no pillow, blanket, or music), and I am free to continue to read.
A different medical person comes in and tells me that I need to drink some more contrast, since I've had to wait a little while due to all of the patients they've had this morning. I groan. He apologizes. It's okay, I tell him. He gives me a big cup of what looks like lemonade, none of the thick, chalky white looking substance that I had that morning. And to my surprise, it tastes like lemonade. It's actually pretty yummy. Now why can't they give me 2 bottles of that to drink instead of the other nasty tasting contrast? Do I sound like a 4 year old child, lol?
A few minutes later, a war begins in my tummy. The two different types of contrast are fighting for position. My stomach is essentially empty except for the contrast because I am not to eat or drink anything else for 8 hours prior to my appointment time. This is not good.
A female medical technician comes to take me to the scanning room. Normally, I am taken to a restroom first to empty my bladder because, just like the bone scan, the PET and CT scans take about an hour. She tells me that the scans work better with a full bladder. I am shocked. I've never been told that before. She also tells me that if I could hold it 5 or 10 minutes, we would be done. Again, I am shocked. This is totally different from the PET and CT scans that I've had in the past. I'm all for this - the less time, the better. I try to ignore the sounds coming from my tummy, and I hope that she can't hear them.
I lay on the table, and we start the first scan, from feet to head. I am never sure which scan is which, so I always assume that the first scan is the CT. Once that's done, she injects a die into the needle in my arm. Usually the die burns so bad that tears come from my eyes. The technician would then massage the area until the vein settles down. Today, there is no burning. I still feel the warm, tingly substance entering different portions of my body, but it doesn't hurt today. I am again amazed at the difference between this new facility and the other PET/CT facility. I tell the technician that it doesn't burn and that it normally does. She responds that if it's injected slow enough it shouldn't burn. So the other facility had been rushing this substance through my veins?! Shame on them, lol!
The table again starts to move me through the machine. A couple of minutes later, it's over. She proceeds to remove the needle and to place a bandage over my forearm. That's it? I am so used to being there much longer that I'm actually giddy. I tell her that I want to come back there in 4 months when it's time for the scans because it was much quicker. She said that it should not have been since they use the same procedure that their sister facility uses. I know better and wanted to argue the point with her, but I didn't really want to take the time, and she didn't really have the time, so I kept quiet.
Now I had about a couple of hours before my next appointment. But first, I had to take care of my tummy issues. Once that was over, I ran a few errands until it was time to see the oncologist for my monthly treatment.
By the time I saw my oncologist, she had received and reviewed the results. The bone scan showed that there were no new cancer sites. The good news was that there appeared to be a lot of scar tissue which indicates that the Zometa is still working. The PET and CT scans were also good. So, what were the new pains? I described them, and the oncologist nodded her head. It's the Femara, she said. Unlike with the Tamoxifen, my bone cancer had seemed to be arrested with the Femara. She wanted me to continue to take it as long as I could tolerate it. She would give me another prescription pain reliever that I would take twice a day, every day, if the Aleve was not working. My hydrocodone prescription had run out a long time ago. She really did not encourage Advil. It didn't really matter because neither the Aleve nor the Advil was working on the new pains; they barely helped with my old pains. She wanted me to take the Aleve at the onset of pain and to not wait until I couldn't tolerate the pain any more, which is what I had been doing all along. Pain management is a difficult science, and it's a lot of trial and error. Since I hurt all day, every day, I really don't want to take that much pain reliever. And I really didn't want to be on another prescription pain reliever. I told her I would stick with the Aleve and if the pain became worse (not sure how it could get any worse), I'd come in for the prescription.
The next thing on the list to discuss was the anemia. My port had been assessed, and the nurse had filled up the little tubes with my blood. The good news was that my counts had neither gone up nor down, so I wouldn't have an IV iron infusion today. I was to continue with the iron pills and B and D vitamins. She also wanted me to add some calcium pills, since the Zometa seemed to be pulling the available calcium from my body to repair the bones.
In addition to the Zometa, I would have a booster shot of Lupron today. Lupron prevents my ovaries from producing estrogen. When I first started the Lupron shots, I would get them every month. When the tests came back that my ovaries were completely shut down, I was given a Lupron injection that would last 4 months. The 4 months was up today. I was required to reduce the weight on my hip by lifting my leg behind me and bending over as they pulled my pants down to inject the thick substance into my butt muscle. The injection site remains sore for a couple of days afterwards, and the small lump dissipates over the same time frame.
So another month of treatment was done, and I wouldn't be due for scans for another 4 months. It was a relief that the groin and foot pains were not new cancer sites. I would have loved to hear that the tumors in my back and pelvic bone were completely gone, but all of the reading I've done about bone cancer over the last year and a half says that will never happen. To know that the tumors are stable and not spreading is the next best thing. Now that I knew that the foot and groin pains were a result of the Femara, I could deal with it. I had been dealing with the pain in my back and hips for so long now that they were my friends. I just have new friends to entertain from now on. It would scare me to death to wake up one morning and be able to hop out of the bed pain free, rather than to ease out stiff and sore.
It was time to go back to work and get back to my every day life. But first, I had to take care of my tummy issues again. It had to be the mixing of the different contrasts. I would be in the restroom several more times that day before I finally had some relief, lol.
Monday, August 10, 2009
So . . . I'm sitting in the airport, waiting to board a plane to Philadelphia, when it suddenly occurred to me that I had not packed any socks. I knew I was forgetting something! My list of things to do when I arrived in Lanesboro, PA for the Viaduct Trail 100 Mile Run just went up one item. Wal-Marts are everywhere, so this would not be a big issue, I thought.
Carl and Dave were doing this race as a "Fat Ass" event - no fee, no aid, and no wimps. This is my favorite type of race. They would provide water and drop bag service at the start/finish and at the 12.5 mile turn-around point, with a mid-point water stop only. The race was on a rails-to-trails, with four 25 mile out-n-backs, making up the 100 miles. They had capped the race at 30, and at some point had started a wait list. When I asked to be put on the wait list, I was #4 from the top. After a few months, I finally made it off the wait list and onto the official starting roster. Race day came, and only 17 of us started.
But, I'm getting ahead of myself. Somewhere along one of the initial road sections, a runner catches up to me, and we start chatting. Shiran (NY) had driven down to the race that morning but had been stopped by the cops for a tail light that was out, so he had started the race late. He didn't seem to be upset at all and had luckily gotten off with a warning. At one point, we were talking about the railroad spike that we would receive at the finish for our efforts. I had told him that since I had flown and only had carry-on luggage that I couldn't take my spike onto the plane with me. I had planned to ask and pay one of the race directors to mail the spike to me. Shiran immediately offered to mail it for me and he had only known me for a couple of miles. How cool was that!
Way too soon, it was time for Shiran to take off. He would remain cheerful, encouraging, and fast the entire race. Shiran would also steadily move up the field to finish 7th overall in a fine time of 23:44:19. Wow!