Optimisim, You Say?

"Optimism? It's a mania for insisting everything is great when, really, we're all wretched." - Candide

Sunday, July 31, 2011

There's No More Cancer in Me OR My Blog

The past two weeks have been a blur. Drive here, take this pill, try to work, run there, get this shot, grade that, ride here, focus, don’t get stressed, swim there, hope the nosebleed stops, bonk, try not to feel queasy, sleep, wake up feeling like I didn’t . . . . all with a mild case of thymentia. (Thymentia is the term used by many thyroid patients for the foggy-headed, absentminded, forgetful feeling we all experience thanks to not having a thyroid, or having a poorly-functioning thyroid.)
On Wednesday, I got the results of my whole body scan. (Side note: mega-super-uber-huge BONK on Wednesday night. Tried to cram way too much into that day. Topic for another entry.)

After what seemed like an eternity of waiting for answers, the visit itself concluded at breakneck speed. The oncologist (who I love) basically sat down with us, opened my folder, and said, “Your scan was stone cold normal.”

I’m sure he saw the relieved/happy/confused look on my face (well, you couldn't miss the raising-my-arms-in-victory-over-my-head part), so he added, “Which is what you wanted, right?” -rhetorical question-

Of course, I agreed, and I asked my questions about when to get bloodwork, let him know about the nosebleed, etc. He said, “So just go back to your endocrinologist and follow up with me as needed.”

I blinked.

“You’re done!” he said with a smile.

Thinking about all the people I know who have scans every year or two, I stuttered, “Like . . .done? Like, I don’t have to have any more of these?”

“Yep,” he responded. “I mean, obviously, your endocrinologist will monitor your labs, but you only have to come back and see me if something looks wrong.” Then he glanced down at something in my bloodwork and frowned. “Hmmm, that’s weird,” he said.

I got this comic from a web friend -
I guess one of the authors’
wives is a breast cancer
It was an explanation
I could really identify with.

My heart stopped. “What’s weird?”

“Well, your thryglobulin antibodies are up to 4.5.”

“What does that mean?”

“They’re supposed to be zero. Do you remember what they usually are?”

“Yeah, negative-something?”

“Well, they can’t be negative, but they can be less than 1.” (Flipping through my chart quickly) “Yeah, yours look like they’ve always been less than 1.”

“So what does that mean?”

“You’ll just have to have your endocrinologist monitor your bloodwork.”

I left feeling a lot more . . . blank than I expected. I guess my emotional outpouring was long done. Don’t get me wrong, celebrations will ensue. But I realized, as the day ended, that there is a lot more to being a cancer survivor than just surviving cancer. No wonder so many people get so wrapped up in worrying about when/if it will "return."

Trying to explain the steps from patient to recovery to remission is often tricky. Sometimes people assume that remission happens as soon as the cancer is "cured." Trying to understand that yourself can also be tricky. Thyca is even more complicated, because not only do we rarely have chemo or traditional radiation like other cancer patients (which can often lead to insensitive comments like one I got this week "better than having the kind that so-and-so had!") we have bloodwork every 3-6 months regardless of whether we're "out of the woods" or not. I always say I'm going to stop blogging about how different life is after cancer, but I don't think now that I'll ever be able to stop. It is something that will affect me forever.

The reality is that you cannot dwell on it daily, although it may change and affect you daily. Becoming too wrapped up in your "status" (patient, survivor, recovery, remission, treatment, etc.) will create a never-ending circle of stress. The cancer can always, "come back," and if we spend our lives worrying about whether it does, we significantly damage the quality of the life we have left.

I have identified who I am, although I don't have a label for it yet. I have chosen to step forward. I have decided to view everything resulting from my cancer as positive and to see my cancer as a gift that enabled me to appreciate and understand so much more about myself and the world around me. I have chosen to continue training, even on the bad weeks, because exercise keeps me otherwise healthy and (as) sane (as possible).

And that, after all, is why this blog even exists.

As a final note, I've changed the theme and the tagline on my training blog. I decided I'm just an "athlete," not a "triathlete," for one. And I figured calling it Finishing Races, Beating Cancer, and Living Life gave too much power to the cancer. Yep, still going to have times when I talk about it - but that doesn't mean it makes me who I is.

We now return you to your (new and improved) regularly scheduled programming.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Forward Motion

During the hardest times of training and racing, when it feels like I'm moving at Mach Negative 16, or when another runner is struggling, I will often say this to myself or my struggling counterpart:

Any forward motion is progress.

The idea here: speed is unimportant.  Mileage is unimportant.  The goal/finish line will still be there waiting for you.  It's not going anywhere - but you are.  You're moving forward - and thus towards it.  This is something I have also learned to apply to my personal life.

This has really been one of the most meaningful, fulfilling, and challenging weeks of my life.  I feel so positive about all the progress I've made.

You'll notice I said positive, meaningful, fulfilling and challenging - not GOOD, GREAT, SATISFACTORY, etc.  That's because part of the progress I've made is in re-teaching myself not to label things and judge them. I've blogged before about undertaking this effort, almost a year ago - and, here I am, having merely planted the seed with that first blog entry, making some REAL, honest-to-goodness, forward motion with it.

CHA-ching!  (That's the emotional cashbox ringing as I fill it with positive currency.)

I've also managed to switch from updating my status on FB/Twittter every few hours to about once a day, sometimes going days without touching it.  And I have not checked in anywhere, given gratuitous information about my whereabouts, etc. - basically, I halted all the behaviors that were annoying me.   (Although Twitter doesn't give me the same aggravated feeling as FB, because a lot of the people I follow on Twitter are celebs, and they're just good for laughs.)

HUGE change in my overall outlook/feelings of happiness though.  The more space I had from FB, the better I felt: free, happy, relieved, etc.  So I decided to check out what some of my friends were doing today and see what happened.  (Yeah, real smart, I know.)  As soon as I went on and read status updates for the first time in over a week, once again, it aggravated me. 

But, I learned something about it (that it still annoys me).  So - forward motion is still progress.  I am still debating just deactivating my account altogether.

Fresh Eating is going AWESOME.  In my first week, I dropped back down 3-4 pounds to my 'triathlon training' weight, even though I have only been training about 5 hours a week.  Best of all, I feel great.  Basically, I just cut the majority of sugars and refined carbs from my diet and returned to my super-healthy roots.  I had a few beers this weekend, and twice during the week I had products with white flour, but for the most part it's whole grains, beans, veggies out the ass (literally), and so much lean, lean protein that even my little protein-craving heart feels satisfied. 

Typical breakfasts are protein smoothies with spinach, fruit and flax, oatmeal with flax, bee pollen and/or wheat germ, and egg whites.  Typical lunches are canned tuna and greens, lean chicken breasts on whole wheat buns with salads with minimal dressing, or piles of fresh steamed and raw veggies with lean beef, egg whites, chicken, or fish.  Sometimes I'll have tofu, beans, or veggie burgers instead of meat.  Lots of water and unsweetened green tea.  I even got to visit the health food store this weekend - first time in YEARS - and made beans from scratch like I used to. 

And the coolest thing next to feeling GREAT?


^What this teaches a former disordered eater is that food is about FUEL, not ANGUISH.  (Again, I'm learning to drop labels . . . am I allowed to progress this much in a few weeks??!?!?)  And when fresh isn't super-available, I just make the smartest decisions I can.  Like when the guys dragged me to a burger joint that only had burgers on Saturday and I had a veggie burger with loads of veggies instead.  Did I snitch some fries?  You bet your ass I did.  But overall, just being aware of looking for the last-processed food keeps you from going overboard. 

It's about being healthy.  Weight loss is a secondary, although pleasant, effect.

Math, like food, used to be my enemy.  My GRE score once prevented me from applying to my PhD program.  But thanks to a lot of hard work with my tutor, I am knocking down some serious barriers.  I'm almost guaranteed a higher score this time, and I feel outstanding about my math skills.  (Compare this to several months ago, when I actually told a friend I thought I was one of the dumbest people on earth.)

As far as my other academic progress, I hit another major milestone in my SIOP research this week and I have a RARE BEAK right now where I can spend the next week working only on my OWN work, not student assignments or research.

My home is finally sold after too long on the market, and although I feel sad about selling it so close to buying, it is definitely for the best and I am excited about the next chapter as well as the relief of not having the responsibility.

So, everything seems to be falling together very nicely.

A new era in my life began this week . . . and forward motion ensued.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

I used to be a blogger . . .

Last night, I found myself wandering through some blog entries from 5 or so years ago.   (Usually this has the tendency to depress me, but I actually enjoyed myself this time.)  Back then, I blogged on MySpace, which let me post blog entries directly to my front page and control who saw each individual entry as opposed to either sharing everything with a group or sharing nothing.


For one thing - boy, did I share a LOT. Names, places, dates, times.  In the interest of my profession and far-reaching philanthropic goals, and just because I’ve changed a lot as a PERSON, I really don’t share the same kind of information I used to.  Just don’t have the need, desire, or even literal ability.


Which is part of the other thing that struck me – how interesting my posts were.  I mean, some of my stuff was really fun to read.  


I got to thinking, man, what happened?  I used to be a blogger.


My life has changed so much in the last 5 years.  I feel like that person and this person never even lived in the same body.  Some of it is depressing; even though I lived a comfortable and sheltered life, I never realized how lucky and comfortable it WAS.  And some of it is uplifting; I am now doing every single thing I never thought I could do but always WANTED to do.  And I finally kicked all my illnesses and medications.  I’m reaching goal after goal, PR after PR.  My work life is stable and enjoyable for the first time in probably 10 years.


But one of the biggest things I noticed was the absolute lack of romance in my life.  I don't mean just romance as in love and relationships; I mean romance in the overarching, emotional, philosophical sense.  I had a period of helpless romanticism during my late teens and early 20s, and everything in my life was both reported and filtered through that soft hazy glow.  There is really no romance in my current life . . . at all.  It is all TCOB (Taking Care O’ Bidniss.)


I'm not sure how I feel about this.  On one hand, I miss romance.  I miss adventure, excitement, and feeling as if something my heart desired was just waiting around every corner.  Conversely, I feel like my current life is more realistic.  Not everything and one I encounter is automatically a transcendental figure or experience.  I’m not in any danger of someone calling me EMO.


But I still feel like there’s something missing.  Something I can’t quite put my finger on. And it’s not something that necessarily comes from a relationship.


I don't do this often, but the best way to describe it is a lyric from a song I wrote years ago: "I've been on the edge most all of my life.  Waiting for a moment, hoping for anything at all.  Falling in and out of cognizance, fading in and out of competence.  Waiting for the tears to fall.  And leaving."


I am.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Another Odd Thing That Both Cancer and Training Have Taught Me

I’ve written about this before, but when I first got really sick, I wasn’t prepared for peoples’ reactions.  I expected, “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry.  How are you feeling? Is there anything I can do for you?” But this was the exception, not the rule.  People around you don’t always understand (and aren’t always supportive of) someone chronically ill.  I can’t even count how many times people stopped talking to me, or when they did, would say things like “Just shake it off.  When *I* have a cold, I just take some medicine and keep partying like a rock star.” 

One of my observations, which still stands, was that you can’t really blame people for reacting like this.  It’s not anyone’s responsibility to be sympathetic or their job to make me feel better.  I’m sure they also don’t know what to say.  And, in the end, everyone has to make decisions about the people they keep close, and most of us make those decisions based on how people make us feel.  Being around a sick person probably doesn’t make you feel your best. 

Now that I’ve come through some of the difficulties of my illness and am more or less on the other side, I realize how valuable that observation was.  The people who did take the time and make the effort to be supportive, even though it WASN’T their job, even though they DIDN’T know what to say, are still my strongest allies.  And they’re also some of the most positive people around me.

I used to be sad when friendships changed or came to an end.  Now something that both training AND cancer have helped me realized is that cycles are vital in our lives.  If we had the same workout or the same treatments, all the time, no matter the condition of our bodies, we wouldn’t get results.  They both have to be tailored to the obstacles we are hoping to overcome and goals we’d like to achieve.  Well, the same goes with the people in our lives; some are around for many cycles and some are around just for specific moments.

I’m going through a few of the most outstanding months of my life.  I’m not going to lie to you and tell you there haven’t been rocky patches, because life is not without those, no matter how amazing it is (especially when you’re battling health problems and trying to work several jobs).  But, overall, I end each day feeling somewhat accomplished and focused and happy.   And positive.

I’m thankful for the people who have remained positive with me, but I’m also thankful for those who have come and gone.

2011 is going to be an amazing year. I can just feel it.