Triathlon Sisters

May 25, 2007

Holy Flying Barracudas, Batman!

Filed under: beginning to train,health — by hawk @ 5:15 am

It’s true. My older sis Barracuda is flying into Chicago tonight! Tomorrow we are going to hit the pool and swim in a lane with no wall (see earlier post). She’s working on her “picking apples and dropping them in the basket” side stroke and I’m still trying to breathe on both sides for my front stroke. Some days I can do it; others, not so much.

I went out biking on the lakeshore on Tuesday which I probably shouldn’t have because I was already tired. I have been tired for a few weeks now. I think I have to pace myself better with the training and give myself some quality rest time. It’s hard to rest though because I have this “deadline” that I want to meet so I’m always worried about not being ready. Plus, when I do choose to not workout, a little voice inside says, “Lazy”. Now I know intellectually that is not true, but sometimes it is very hard to rest without thinking “I should be running/swimming/stretching/biking/etc.” The thing is, I’m actually feeling much better and more healthy with two days rest. I have to make this a regular part of training otherwise I think I’ll run myself into the ground.


May 11, 2007

Dealing with Breast Cancer

Filed under: health — by hawk @ 7:51 am


May 8, 2007

The Struggle to Move Beyond ‘Why Me?’

Six days after my husband and I returned from a trip to Aruba — our first real vacation without our children — my doctor told me I had breast cancer. I had felt a lump in my breast before the trip, but decided to wait to have it checked. I’d had lumps before, and they had always turned out to be nothing. But this one wasn’t nothing. It was Stage 2 invasive ductal carcinoma.

The days after my diagnosis are a blur of doctor visits, tests, sleepless nights, tearful discussions with family members and intense research. I saw doctor after doctor after doctor. They patiently answered my many questions about surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and endocrine therapy. But none of them could answer the most important question of all: Why the hell did I get breast cancer?

I was 41. I had no family history of breast cancer and no major risk factors. Tests showed I did not carry breast cancer genes. I exercised regularly and ate healthfully. I did not smoke. I had yearly mammograms. The only thing I’d done “wrong,” according to the standard list of risk factors for breast cancer, was having my first baby after age 30.

And yet all I got from my doctors when I asked them why was a shrug. “It just happens,” a surgeon told me. “You can do everything right and still get breast cancer. Unfortunately, you drew the short straw.”

That explanation didn’t cut it for me. I needed to know why.

As a freelance health writer, I’m accustomed to tracking down the answers to vexing medical questions. So I set out in search of an answer. I examined studies, pored over articles in medical journals, spoke with experts and joined a support group with women who knew so much about breast cancer they could have passed board certification exams.

Meanwhile, I underwent my treatment — three operations, eight sessions of dose-dense chemotherapy and six weeks of daily radiation treatments. I lost part of my breast, all of my hair and most of my sense of security. And still no satisfactory answer to my question.

Not long after my treatment ended, I found myself in a hospital elevator with a bald woman. I had no hair at that time, either, so we started to chat. (It’s amazing how cancer brings people together — I’ve had deep, 45-minute conversations with complete strangers in waiting rooms.)

“What have you got?” she asked me. We were like prisoners in the same jail comparing crimes.

“Stage 2 breast cancer,” I told her.

“I’m Stage 4 ovarian,” she said.

I could tell by the look on her face that I wasn’t doing a very good job of concealing the look on my face. We both knew that her prognosis was not good. But she wasn’t grieving. She seemed happy.

“When I was diagnosed, the doctors told me I had two months to live,” she said with a huge grin. “That was more than three years ago.”

We stood in the damp parking garage, talking. She is a single mother with two teenage children. She gets chemo every couple of weeks and works full time because she needs the money, and the health insurance. As we chatted, I realized that if she weren’t bald, I would never know she was battling a terminal illness.

“How do you do it?” I asked her. “How do you live each day with cancer hanging over your head?”

She smiled, understanding. “I treat every day as an adventure, and I refuse to let anything make me sad, angry or worried,” she replied. “I live for the day, which is something I never did before. Believe it or not, I’m happier now than I was before I was diagnosed.”

She wasn’t spending her time tracking down studies and agonizing over statistics. She wasn’t sitting with her head in her hands, asking why, why, why. No, she didn’t know why she got cancer, but she realized that nothing would be different even if she did.

I thought about her for days. Gradually I began to understand. The only answer to the question “Why me?” is this: Because bad stuff happens to everyone, and this is what happened to me. One of my closest friends struggled with infertility. That’s her short straw. Another friend’s marriage fell apart. Another friend gave birth to a stillborn child. Look closely enough and you’ll see that everyone has a short straw or two in their lives.

I’ll never know why I got cancer. What I do know is that the sooner I let go of the need to find something or someone to blame, the sooner I’ll be able to put cancer behind me and enjoy life, however long or short it may be. Only when I accept the sometimes cruel randomness of fate will I be able to call myself a survivor.

Alice Lesch Kelly is a freelance health writer based in Newton, Mass.

April 17, 2007


Filed under: about this blog,beginning to train,health — by hawk @ 5:11 pm

Manatee Mural by Xavier Cortada

Gosh it has been a while since I’ve written, or my dear sister Barracuda. I’m alive and relatively well. Been sick for the last few weeks — sore throat, cough, drippage, and general yuckiness. It’s been going around my office so it was just a matter of time. Unfortunately when I get sick I freak out because it reminds me too much of being sick before. Always wonder if I’ll get over it this time.

Enough drama! On to more positive things! I talked to Barracuda last night who was on vacation with her family. She did get some open water swimming in, but mostly just to roll around with manatees. Lucky her! Then there’s my dear sister-in-law who was due to do the Tri with us. She had a terrible fall and hurt her leg. I feel awful for her. Our prayers are with you, girl. My bro says she’s doing okay now.

I’ve been out of the gym/pool for almost two weeks now which kinda bums me out. But I know my breathing is bad now due to whatever affliction I have. But on the positive side of things, I got my wheels rebuilt on my road bike so that I’m in good bike shape for riding and getting ready for the Tri. YEA! I have a big meeting tomorrow afternoon, but after that, I’m refocusing on my training. I’m going to not freak out about losing weight because Tamoxifen is just too much to overcome. So what, I say! As Karl reminded me, my goal is not zooming across the finish line, but training, participating, savoring, and finishing. Amen!

Karl and Jenny, it’s always good to hear from you. I appreciate the advice and support.

I’m going to rally the Triathlon Sisters to get their booties online and for some blogging. In the meantime, I’ll be back much more regularly starting tomorrow. Can’t wait!

March 29, 2007

Breast Cancer Stinks

Filed under: health,inspiration — by hawk @ 8:52 am

Did you hear all the stuff last week about Elizabeth Edwards, wife of presidential candidate John Edwards? I have all the admiration in the world for this woman. Thanks, Elizabeth for talking about what you are going through and for showing that you are a person first and foremost, and that your life is not reduceable to cancer. My prayers and good wishes are with you.

I am not at all pleased, however, with the media commentary. Imagine how horrified I was when, laying on my couch watching the news, I heard some news commentator say that women diagnosed with breast cancer have 2-5 years to live and that 1 in 5 women with breast cancer will have a recurrence! There was absolutely no nuancing of these statements. I thought, holy crap, is that really true because if it is, I’m screwed. Then I sobered up and remembered that my doctors never gave me those odds and that prognosis and possibility for recurrence depends on so many things. Still, I found it to be irresponsible newscasting.

I am also not pleased at the moment with my treatment. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad for treatment, but it’s really tough when you are trying to lose weight and the medication makes it that much more difficult. I had a hard enough time before treatment and now it’s even harder. But I HAVE to lose weight because being overweight can make one more predisposed to breast cancer. That just stinks. So I’m fighting the overwhelming odds here, trying to lose weight. Then the other thing is that pesky lymphedema. I’ve been exercising more which has made my hand/arm swell up more because the little lymph guys can’t find their way out of my arm. That’s just flippin’ great (written with intense sarcasm). O well. So it goes. All will be well. It may suck, but I’ve got to keep going and trying and hoping.

Elizabeth Edwards: you are one of the lights in my sky of hope. You go, girl.

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