Trek Women
February 6, 2009

Rx: Cycling

Rx pad I've been in a bit of a writing slump lately.  It's not that there aren't plenty of things going on that I want to share with all of you - there are.  It's just that, well, I'm sad.  To be completely honest, I'm not just sad, I'm SAD.  I am one of millions of people, more women than men, who is affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder.  Basically, what that means is that right around Daylight Saving Time in the fall, when there are more hours of darkness than not, when the air turns cooler and the skies turn grayer, I become depressed.  I feel tired, I want to hibernate in my bed, I crave and seek comfort in sweets and carbs (Sat:  doughnuts - way too many doughnuts, Sun: coffee cake - what do you mean this is supposed to serve 12?, Mon: banana bread. . . for example), and I just feel generally depressed.  But, these symptoms are limited to the winter season and when the weather turns come spring, my depression lifts.  (This shouldn't surprise any of you regular readers who can note how many times I cite my hatred of Daylight Saving Time and gray skies.)

It is not known what causes SAD but experts are fairly convinced it is connected to levels of sunlight and the effect that sunlight has on the chemicals in our brains.  In fact, the more north of the equator that you live, the higher the percentage of people with SAD.  There are various ways that SAD can be treated, depending on the severity of the symptoms (which, in my case, can depend on whether or not we are having a sunny, mild winter or not).   This year, I was able to push off the onset of my symptoms until December by having the trips to California and then the Bahamas in November.

One part of treatment  that I have found works for me is to use light therapy.  I use a light box which simulates sunlight - I sit in front of it for a half an hour each morning and just read a book.  But, I am also really lucky in that I have a doctor who also prescribes training as part of my treatment.  There are definite links to aerobic exercise and mood and my doctor actually tells me that I need to be exercising each day to help boost my "feel-good brain chemicals" and stave off my winter mood.  So, this year, to help adhere to my prescription, my bike is hooked up to the bike trainer right in my bedroom.  It makes it harder for me to climb back under the covers and stay there when every time I roll over my bike is staring back at me.  These days, I am fighting that internal battle each day to climb on the trainer and get the wheels spinning.  I've found that the over-under is around 20 minutes - I spend 20 minutes hating it and wanting to jump back into bed and then around minute 21 my head clears, I enjoy the sweat and I feel lighter and better for the effort when I'm done.

The best part of that portion of the prescription?  No referral, no copay, no trip to the drugstore.   It's only 42 days until spring. . . .not that I'm counting. . . .

-Jen

January 7, 2009

Trailer

In order to effectively read this entry, you must imagine the voice you hear in dramatic movie trailers - you know the one - the deep dramatic voice that could make even eating oatmeal sound like a drama not to be missed.

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They were ordinary women.  Women of all walks of life who shared one common love.  They loved to ride their bikes.  Their reasons were different, their passion the same.  They wrote of their love and millions of women responded.  Now, they look to expand their circle.  Brought to you by Trek Bikes, the search begins anew.    They will search high and low and read millions of essays looking to identify five new women who can only be known as. . . .Women Who Ride.  (Insert dramatic music here.)

Coming NOW to the Trek website near you.  The search ends on January 24th.  Rated W - Women Only.

Get writing girls!  I can't wait to see what you have to say. . . .

-Jen

December 11, 2008

Coming and Going

Graph3 (2) This post can only possible start with multiple disclaimers.  1) There is really nothing cycling related here.  2) I try to balance my "cancer talk" so that you're not listening (or reading, as is more accurate) but I know that I can't tell you last week that I'm going for a scan and then not report about its results and 3) many of you may not understand or "get" what I'm trying to express in this post (I'm not sure I quite get it myself - please enter now all you armchair psychologists) but I have promised myself that I will always be honest as I blog about my thoughts and feelings, even when confusing.

Okay, disclaimers out of the way, here we go. . .  My scan was last Friday and after a weekend of mentally preparing myself to deal with "a spot, the spot, many spots," my oncologist told me I was entirely spot-free.  Now, this is great news but in no way should spot-free be misconstrued as scot-free.  So, I'm sitting there in the exam room and while spot-free is great news, I wasn't feeling the elated feeling.  Here's what I realized.  I am now 20 months out of chemo for the second time.  It's a scary place to be.  The first remission was so very, very short that being this far out has me always waiting for the other shoe to drop.  In the very same visit my oncologist smiles broadly and tells me that I have no spots we review the latest clinical trials and thoughts on treatment options for the when of when the spots do reappear.

The best way I have figured out to sum up my reactions and my feelings are this:  In my mind, this battle, at its simplest is a task of coming and going.  On the graph of cancer and its treatments I must always be somewhere on the line of coming from chemo and/or treatment and going to the next relapse and its subsequent treatment.  Because that first remission was so short, and now 20 months seems like forever, I somehow feel that on the graph of this whole cancer journey, I must be past the midpoint of that line by now and heading toward that next relapse.

Ultimately, the news is great and 3 more months on that line, wherever I am, is a really good thing.  I'm not dwelling on my feelings about coming or going, but just expressing them for what they are.  I never know what feelings these visits will stir, each time I'm in a new place with my attitude toward cancer, whatever the news.  So, for now, I move on, keep going, as its the only thing I know I can do, train through the cold winter and we'll deal with whatever is next on this journey in March. . .

-Jen

December 5, 2008

Guessing Game

Question mark
So, just for fun, we're going to see who's been paying attention. . . .

Can anyone guess what today is?  I'll give you some clues if no one guesses by early this afternoon. . . .

-Jen

December 3, 2008

Where Did It Go?

IMG_3591 Do you remember as a child how long a month took?  Do you remember how agonizingly slow the days on the calendar passed - especially when waiting for a birthday, vacation or Christmas?  Not so as an adult.  I caught myself answering a question for the kids last weekend that started with, "Yes, Monday is December 1st. . ." and then stopped in my tracks.  December?  Where did November go?

Last you knew I was layering up for the Philly half-marathon and then heading for a warmer climate. Halfmedal Layering and layering is exactly what I did - to the point where my runny nose was practically all  that was showing (and yet there were many a red and frozen bare leg seen running in shorts that day).  I ran myself to a personal best half-marathon time of 2:15:45 and managed not to slip on the ice that formed at water stops when water sloshed and froze on the ground.  As I crossed the finish, I gathered my cool medal (yes, I did "Kick Asphalt," I thought) and kept right on walking - straight to my car, a warm shower at home and then the airport.

Our cruise was fabulous.  Yes, we ate too much and did a lot of nothing.  The whole family got in the water and pet dolphins, the kids tackled a 40 foot water slide, learned to climb a rock wall and we decided on a no-turkey meal on Thanksgiving. Brendan even lost a tooth, which is what got me thinking about how fast time is passing.  When he lost his tooth, we laughed at the irony because Cameron,  3 years ago - almost exactly - lost a tooth on a cruise.  When I had to think back to when that cruise was and realized it had been 3 years - wow!

So, while continuing the day to day and marveling at how fast the holidays are approaching and how little I have done, I'm spending a lot of time trying to conjure up all the moments in the past year, realizing how quickly they've come and gone.

It was just a year ago that I was holiday shopping in a leg cast.  A lot has happened since then.  Since January I've learned to walk and run again, completed 2 5K's, 2 half-marathons, 3 triathlons (one being my first Olympic distance - where there was no medal - yes, I'm still annoyed about that), 3 cycling charity events, skiied in 2 different states (tackling a black diamond run that I thought would be the death of me), cycled around 5 different cities in 4 different states, met many, many other Women WHo Ride, celebrated 2 kids birthdays, had 2 boys grow roughly 6 inches, seen 4 baby teeth fall out, seen a child through surgery, survived a kitchen re-model and and a family room remodel, spent time in the hospital with shingles, gotten a job at a bike shop and written over 125 blog posts chronicling all these events.  Phew.  Wow. 

I've been looking ahead to 2009 lately thanks to all the e-mails announcing race registrations being open. At the same time it's made me realize that time continues to tick by and perhaps I should balance out my thinking ahead with spending a little more time recounting and reliving the fun I've already had.  Kids are good at that - they can remember something silly or the details of an amazing accomplishment for a long time but as adults I've noticed that I'm often more preoccupied with the "What's Next?" thoughts.  So, while the holiday season can often get everyone wrapped up in a whole series of what next's as we try to do to much, be too much and exceed our own often too high expectations, take a few minutes to say, or even ask others "Where did the year go and what moments will I remember?"

-Jen

November 4, 2008

A Matter of Degrees

ERic Shanteau Have you ever played the game that involves figuring out how many people (or degrees) separate you from someone famous?  Well, as of Sunday afternoon I can now say I am now zero degrees from an Olympic athlete.  On Sunday, I met Eric Shanteau, the American Olympic swimmer who was diagnosed with testicular cancer right before the Olympic trials who went on to compete in the Olympics in Beijing.

Eric (we're on a first name basis now) spoke about his cancer diagnosis and his history in swimming and the work in achieving his dream of being an Olympic swimmer.

At the same event, a friend of mine was speaking about women who have never done triathlons before and the barriers to getting women involved in the sport knowing that it is something that many, many women can achieve but are afraid to try. 

What she left us with was the thought that woman are capable of so many things they can't even dream possible.  What struck me most was her final thought when she told us that everyday we should do something that we fear.  First I had to get past the notion that I didn't know I had such a profound friend (no one really sounds profound when you are spinning or running right next to them at top effort) and then I thought about her words.  I have been a little stuck with the notion ever since.  I'm not sure it's because I don't know what would happen if I tried something everyday that made me afraid or if I'm more afraid to actually identify a list that long of things that I'm afraid to try.  But, it has me thinking. . .  I know I'm still afraid of an ocean swim in a tri - I'm petrified of getting eaten (irrational but it's my fear).  Do you think it's even possible to do something, little or big, that you fear every day?  Will facing day to day fears help me become a better athlete, better my mental focus when I race, or at least be less afraid of the pain that sometimes is a part of racing your best?

-Jen

PS.  If only I had been able to convince Eric to become my swim coach - then I could swim faster than whatever is out there in the ocean that could eat me. . .


October 2, 2008

Restless

I must apologize to all you faithful blog readers out there for the feeling that I have left you out in the cold.  I seem to spend each Monday trying to recover myself and our house from the whirlwind that is each weekend and then the boys were off of school the past two days, which took all my "me" time and made it kid time.

Usually when I blog I like to have something to write about that has a beginning, middle and end, if you will.  A problem that has a solution.  Today I don't have that to offer.  What I can tell you is this:  I am restless.

Perhaps it was the mood in which I did my last race, perhaps it was the fading of me reaching my goals for this tri season, perhaps it was the stilted interruption to the racing season with the hospitalization in August.  Whatever the case I know that the only word I seem to settle on lately is restless.  A week after the last tri I was feeling empty.  I didn't feel like my triathlon season had come to a complete close for the year.  I googled around for other races, wondering if doing another late season tri (cold or not) would fill the void.  Last year I felt ready for the tri season to come to a close and to move on to fall activities.  I was ready to look to the next year and make plans, comfortable in the end of one season, ready for the next.

Right now I don't feel ready to plan.  I'm wandering around in a fitness haze, trying new things, unsure of my place.  Last week I reacquainted myself with the offerings of my gym and tried a class called H.I.T.  I'm not sure exactly what the acronym means, other than the fact that it HIT me hard.  (Coach Tom, yes, I finally understand specificity of training - the thought that to be good at swimming, biking, and running you need to do those things specifically.)  I was uncoordinated within the class (I've never been a step aerobics kind of girl) and my family enjoyed laughing at me for the rest of the week as every time I sat down I felt muscles that I didn't know existed (apparently they are not ones used in swimming, biking and running).  I'm planning on returning - the cross-training will be good for me - but it definitely cemented my permanent love of triathlon.

I'm not looking for it to be 90 degrees and humid again but I also feel myself fighting the onset of the cooler weather, which usually I love for running and cycling.  Do I need a new challenge?  Is it an Xterra?  A winter tri?  Adventure racing?  Do I just need to forge ahead and plan for the tri season next year?  A problem without a solution - I told you that in the beginning. Usually what gives me clarity and some space to problem solve is to get the heart pumping and the endorphins flowing.  I'm going to head out this morning and try just that but, lately, I seem to lose any problem solving as soon as the wheels stop turning or my legs stop moving.  Then, once again, I am restless. . .

-Jen 

September 12, 2008

Black and White with Spots

Dalmatian   What is black and white with spots?  No, this isn't the start of a joke.  The correct answer is my scan.  Wait!  Before you gasp (like I almost did), let me explain.  I was in to see my oncologist for the 3-month, as you all know.  She had what I'd like to call  the look - the look that says we're going to have the talk.  Turns out she's exhausted, her daughter hates her kindergarten teacher and she'd just gotten a call from the school nurse.  Momentarily I was brought back to reality that yes, oncologists are people too.

Turns out that my scan and its results are not as black and white, pun intended, as we originally thought.  In my mind, it has always been cancer cells light up, regular cells don't.  Apparently, there is some subjective analysis there.  Darn!  I like the clear cut, no cancer here, definitive stuff.  Some cells lit up in my neck - the subjective analysis being that it is right where I had the huge reactive lymph node due to the shingles on the face.  So, the good news is that I am still being declared in remission!  The not so great news is that my Immune Deficiency Report - don't you love that name?  It sounds like I am being sent to the Principal's office - show that my T-cells (thereby a huge chunk of my immune system) are still low.  So, here we are a year and a half since that last drop of chemo and my body still isn't whatever "normal" is.  That's the price you pay.  I'm being kept on a short leash and will report back to the scanner 3 months from now on my birthday weekend - the one that will remind me that this has been almost 4 years and will last well beyond that.

Hopefully by December my oncologists daughter will love kindergarten and the smile on her face will exude the joy of another scan declaring remission!

-Jen

September 11, 2008

Fifteen Years

Img_3326 Fifteen years ago I was eighteen years old and headed to college convinced that I had "the plan" for my life all worked out.  I was determined in my pre-med major for college and felt I knew exactly how it would all work out. 

Here I am fifteen years later and I know that my former, younger self would laugh if asked to consider the possibilities of where I am now.   (Perhaps it all started when organic chemistry and I just couldn't get along.)

Fifteen years later I am a woman who has been happily married for ten years to my best friend, I have two wonderful boys who keep me constantly on my toes with their questions and curiosities - on my best day I learn at least five new things from them and for them, I have listened to a doctor tell me that I have cancer - twice, I have become a triathlete and challenged my body in ways I never knew possible and I have become a Woman Who Rides for Trek.    The list of changes, challenges and even sometimes defeats that I never envisioned goes on and on.  (And while I didn't become a doctor, let's just say that I'm an active part of the medical community!)

Change continues to occur for me and for our household.  Back to school last week brought change for all of us as we started a new year with some new routines and different challenges.  I too am part of that change.  For the first time in 9 years I am working where someone gives me a paycheck (For the past 9 years it has always been a struggle to find the right answer when I get the question, Do you work?  My answer has varied but most often I settled on, Yes, but no one writes me a paycheck.)  So, what, you ask, am I doing?  Drumroll please. . .I am working for Trek Dealer Bucks County Bicycle.  When owner Scott and I got to know each other last year before the Trek WSD Breast Cancer Awareness Ride, I never  thought that almost exactly a year later I would be working for a bike shop on event planning and learning the volume of things that I don't yet know about the world of cycling.

I am quite rusty at the concept of going to work and it makes me laugh when Jeff or the kids ask me, "How was work today?"  Funny how that was never asked before.

I won't sit and lecture you  - or me for that matter - with the platitude that "change is good."  Not all changes are.  Sometimes they just stink.  Cancer more than stinks but in the evolution of what has happened since then I have found changes that I couldn't have imagined but so many of which I am now grateful. 

None of us really like or welcome change.  We might say we do but we are programmed to be wary of that which we don't know.  It's just how we're built.  Change is challenging and well, most often, we like the easy, not scary way.  The amount of times I have said, "Um, I don't know in the first two days of work at the bike shop has got to be some kind of record.  I don't have the right words or perfect phrase that can encapsulate an attitude or life philosophy that can incorporate leaving room, in both mind and daily life, for openness to the unknown and the sometimes scary.  Maybe it's about the willingness to leap into the unknown.  What I do know is that I wouldn't have been able to know or say that fifteen years ago. . . .

Off to work. . . .

-Jen

September 5, 2008

A Force and a Stand

Header_logo I have keen cancer super-powers. I can spot a scarf-covered or baseball cap covered head, bald from the effects of chemo, at local malls, pools, or parks. I can give you a rough estimate of the number of people in a crowded area sporting LIVESTRONG yellow bracelets. And for every person I meet who learns my cancer story, without fail I learn their own personal story of how cancer has touched their life.

Maybe I don't have superpowers. Maybe I notice these things because they are becoming a much greater norm than not. Cancer is everywhere. Since I was first diagnosed with lymphoma three years ago I have come to know so many cancer survivors. Our numbers get bigger everyday.

For those keeping score, another 3 months have passed and today I headed to the hospital for the scan.  I dutifully fasted, missed my morning coffee, fought rush hour, watched the metal cylinder protecting everyone else from its radioactive contents cover the injection tubing snaking into my arm, drank down my additionally radioactive barium, waited, and then laid on that narrow metal slab for an hour.  All for the pleasure of knowing whether my body is failing the war inside: cancer vs. no cancer.

Sometimes it just feels like enough is enough.  And yet, cancer patients and survivors march through the days of treatments, side-effects and after effects hoping that someday, sooner rather than later, some doctor will look them in the eye and say, "We know how to cure this."  At least that's what I tell my doctor - "just keep working.  Keep doing whatever you need to do to put me in remission again and again until you can fix this once and for all."

Well, I am feeling that tonight we all are ready to say enough is enough.  An organization called Stand Up To Cancer has been founded to do just that.  Tonight at 8 PM ET/PT (7 PM CT), ABC, NBC and CBS networks will simultaneously broadcast, commercial free, an hour of over 50 renowned names in entertainment, sports and music to raise funds for cancer research.  The funds raised will be administered by the American  Association for Cancer Research who will work to identify and build "dream teams" of researchers working on cancer problems and work to eliminate bureaucratic obstacles in the way of real progress to the end of cancer. 

The Stand Up To Cancer Mission Statement begins:

"Here we stand, on the verge of unlocking the answers that will finally conquer the devastation that is cancer. . ."  and later continues with,

"This is where the end of cancer begins:  when we unite in one unstoppable movement and Stand Up to Cancer. . ."

These words are incredibly moving to me in their clarity and simplicity of purpose.  As I tune in tonight I am hoping that all of us touched by cancer will feel less alone in our quest for a cure and we will become the one united force that will fulfill this mission.

-Jen