Ubiquitous Cancer

Sorry for the radio silence – things lately have been a whirlwind; both at work and home. I was in the process of writing a long post about the Hawthorn Half day I participated in a few weekends ago, but in light of recent events it seems insignificant. This past weekend a friend of ours died of cancer. It’s been so devastating and impossible to reconcile with the idea of ‘right’ and ‘fair’ that we have in our minds. I realize that those concepts are man made and have no meaning in reality.

I met Chelsea almost exactly one year ago. Her and her boyfriend, Alan, have been close friends with Scott for many years, overlapping in both the vegan community and running community. The day I met Chelsea really stands out in my mind because it happened on a day I was experiencing a deep low. I even wrote about it here. I was struggling with depression slowly creeping back over me, tangled up in anxiety and self doubt. This was before I started seeing a therapist again, but that day – simply meeting Alan and Chelsea turned it all around. We saw Alan briefly at an aid station of the ultra he was running. Chelsea was there with their dog to provide support and cheer him on. After Alan departed again, we hung out with Chelsea for a while and I got into quick conversation with her about science, nutrition and our obsessive running partners. She was so easy to talk to, friendly, laughing… all brightness.

I learned later from Scott that Chelsea had survived lymphoma a few years prior. But last fall, as a side effect of the radiation she received – a sarcoma developed. Surgery happened and was quickly followed by chemo, then another chemo when there was no response. Some of her treatment occurred in the hospital adjacent to my research lab so Scott and I were able to visit multiple times. Chelsea remained positive, sarcastic and humorous when we saw her, exactly the same as when I met her last May.

When chemo still didn’t illicit a response, she was referred to my own boss’s genomics clinic – a new clinical trial where the patients tumor is sequenced to see if there are more targeted medicines that can be used. The amount that my work and personal life overlap is not something I am fond of.

Scott and I were able to visit Chelsea last Thursday, and she still was able to laugh at the socks Scott brought her that said “fuck this shit” and “I don’t know, I’m high”.

I spent this entire past weekend at work, racing to finish some sequencing we’re doing for genetic markers for congestive heart failure, a rare but dangerous side effect that results from the chemotherapy adriamycin. Chelsea received this during her first treatments, and did experience rare heart damaging effects of this drug. I felt angry that science failed her. That technology itself was to blame for the sarcoma. But it also brought everything full circle – though my day to day research might seem insignificant, it ultimately aims to improve the quality of life of patients. Maybe this is just me trying to find meaning when there is none.

I only knew her briefly, but her impact was great. Chelsea – we are going to miss you.

Going ons in the little white house

Life lately in the little white house is good. I’ve been happy to be away from facebook and instagram (for almost one whole week, gasp!) – it’s been a really nice way to quiet all the ‘noise’. Even if most people do so in jest, there is a lot of negativity and complaining happening online.

In lieu of carving out a life that is separate from what dominant culture dictates, Scott and I have been implementing more self-sustainable practices into daily life. For me this has been focusing on the difference between ‘want’ and ‘need’, particularly when it comes to clothes. Excess in our culture is so apparent in our attitude towards clothing. I know personally I’ve almost come to treat things as ‘disposable’ after a year of wear, what with the constantly changing trends and decline in garment quality. Though I’ve always donated my unwanted clothing to places like Goodwill, it really doesn’t sit well with me – the constant turnover, constant purchasing…not to mention that they come from sweatshops. So I’ve resolved to shop thrift or consignment as much as possible. This is already working in my favor – I found a bunch of great things for incredibly cheap at the first shop I went to. I’m also really set on taking up sewing…

Scott has taken to turning our backyard into a vegetable garden. I can take no credit for this as I’ve only watched him work out in the cold from the comforts of the house. I have been putting all my banana peels in the compost… that counts right?

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I picked up a new pair of running shoes yesterday (I realize that this completely contradicts what I am trying to do in the previous paragraphs – I am a hypocrite, yes) and I am in love. They are NOT neon. Who knew you could find that. Oh and they feel great, but I haven’t had a proper run in them yet. I was actually disappointed in the Kinvaras I just wore out – they fit great, but the durability of them was pretty poor. I went with Adidas Adios Boosts. And they were on sale.

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Tomorrow we head down to Brown County for some trail running, good thing since my trail series starts in one month! We also get to celebrate Valentine’s Day with a fancy four course vegan dinner our friend’s restaurant is putting on. No complaints here.

Now I’m off to curl up in bed with the cats and watch The Fall on netflix as this week has been ridiculously busy at work and I can’t wait to turn off my brain.

Life through the lens of cancer

Though I never set out with a concrete idea of what this blog would be about, I’ve mainly only discussed my running. But I realized there is a big part of my life that I’ve (not necessarily on purpose) never discussed. Mostly I felt that some of the experiences were not mine to share*, but after encouragement from Scott, I’ve decided to share away.

So, how to begin? Ahem.

I’m in a relationship with someone with an incurable** form of cancer. As frightening as that sounds, the cancer has never seemed incredibly dire or life threatening (Scott can attest to that). However we’ve learned in retrospect that it was incredibly dire and life threatening, which makes me shudder to think about. But right now Scott is stable. His cancer isn’t growing. He isn’t ‘suffering’ from cancer per se. He does still experience side effects of the chemotherapy he was on for over a year, but he can carry on with daily life mostly unimpeded. He runs 7 days a week, leads a vegan straight-edge life and is (aside from the cancer) ridiculously healthy. So healthy that we often forget about it.

But no, not really. We never forget about it. It’s always there, looming in our conversations about the future and about his son and about us. Scott, always a realist, jokes about his cancer frequently. “I won’t live that long!” he says when I say I hope we’re weird old folks. Usually these comments bring me down. But of course I think about them too. I’m only 27, I’ve already been married once, and currently I’m on no trajectory to have children. Am I just going to be alone when I’m old and grey?

Before I get to my thoughts on that let me start from the beginning. I first met learned of Scott through his blog. I’d been a vegetarian and a runner for years so naturally his blog was something I came across. I have read it intermittently since around 2010 and I attribute one of his posts to really bolstering my choice to go vegan. When I moved to Kansas after getting married in 2012 I submerged myself in the world of blogs and social media. I was so incredibly alone and isolated then – blogs were such a refuge for me. I had also at this point, started and then quit my job working in a lab doing rodent research, read Scott Jurek’s book and gone vegan for month stretches. I became even more interested in Scott’s blog and his passion for veganism and radical politics.

I remember catching myself up on his blog after I’d missed a few posts and saw that he’d just been diagnosed with cancer. It was surprising and saddening to me – but ultimately he was a stranger. I still felt connected to him as anyone who has read his blog for years can say. Scott writes with so much emotion and eloquence that it’s hard not to feel like you know him a bit. I sent him a card towards a donation fund a friend had set up and remember getting excited when I got a hand written thank you note in return.

But wait, hold on. Wasn’t I married at this point?

My personal life at this point and time – about 6 months into my marriage – was spiraling. I don’t really want to revisit the details, but let’s just say my ex was not a positive influence on my self-esteem. I felt like I was walking on eggshells all the time. I had just completely up-heaved my life for him (switched from a PhD to a MS degree and moved away from my family and friends to a town where I knew no one) so I was FREAKING OUT at the idea that it was going to fall apart. I didn’t know what I would do if that happened. So I basically was trying everything I could to keep it together, all the while not admitting to myself that I wasn’t happy in the least. If anything, my desire to connect with Scott should have been an indicator that something was wrong in my marriage.

So yes, I was married. But aside from occasionally commenting on his blog, or liking his Instagram posts I wasn’t really interacting with him. So I knew Scott had cancer, and had surgery and was basically not able to run for the time being. I followed his progress on his blog and Instagram and was happy to see him trying to return to his normal life. But his cancer was still at a distance. He seemed fine and active, but sometimes depressed about his situation.

My marriage ended in August and I completely shut down. I moved out, I deleted all of my social media accounts and holed myself up with Lily (my cat) in my nice new empty apartment. I barely reached out to friends, I tried to hide it from my parents and I didn’t tell anyone at work for months. Looking back I can’t believe I dealt with divorce that way, I can’t believe I did it all almost entirely alone. It was a very bleak time in my life.

I slowly reconnected with the world and made a new Instagram account and connected with Scott again. I realized my interest in Scott wasn’t just admiration from a far – I wanted to actually know him. After a cryptically flirtatious Instagram exchange, I sent him an email. I had no idea if he would even know who I was (I thought he was blog-famous, we laugh at this now) but he did and we immediately started talking. What started as a few timid text messages back and forth quickly jumped to daily phone calls and skype conversations. I don’t want to bore you with all the gooey details of our beginning relationship, but very early in our talks Scott emphasized to me that if I ever became too overwhelmed by his cancer situation I ‘had an out’.

Did I really asses what it meant to get into a relationship with someone whose health situation was unpredictable? Yes, I did – but the decision was easy. I knew that regardless of what ever happened to Scott, getting to know him would be worth it. And the decision was basically made before I could make it. I had feelings for him that I couldn’t just ignore because they weren’t convenient. 

Anyways, mushy-ness aside – being in a relationship with someone with cancer can be challenging. I never had a ‘before cancer’ Scott to compare to, cancer was always present in our dynamic, so that seems to make it…. more of a constant? But still, I hate seeing him go through pain and not being able to help. I hate seeing how chemo interrupts his beloved running. I hate worrying that he might die from it. I also have selfish moments of frustration when I realize we can’t plan much of our life out in advance. I feel jealous sometimes of people with a ‘normal’ life who are able to have families and life plans and expect to die of old age.

But I counter with asking if I would rather not have entered into this relationship. No, I would never give up meeting Scott, I would never give up meeting his son, I would never give up seeing him dance like David Brent, or watching TV in bed with him, or seeing him progress his running, or all our conversations about a meaningful life.

I will say, this cancer thing has put me through a lot of scary shit. I’ve never had a close family member have major surgery of any sort. Watching Scott wheel away to the OR last August was probably one of the toughest things I’ve ever experienced, and waiting to hear he made it out of surgery was possibly worse. And I know I have to go through all that again, the waiting, the ICU, seeing him in pain…. But it’s not hard. It’s just what you do when you love someone.

Our life is very normal on the day-to-day. Cancer isn’t always rearing its head (though obviously I am speaking from my perspective. Scott’s daily experience with it is completely different needless to say. I try to be as empathetic as possible, but really I have no idea). And we’re incredibly lucky in that respect. I work in a breast cancer research lab and the stories my boss tells me are devastating. Scott’s cancer is slow growing and unlikely to metastasize. Many are not that lucky. So like anything else in life, we handle it day by day. And I know every day I made the right choice. 

I might not know what is in store for my future, but to shy away from it is akin to avoid cars because you might be in a car accident. Life is scary and dangerous and full of sadness. But if you try to avoid all of that, you miss all the good, funny and awe-inspiring experiences that make life anything worth living! So I choose to not worry too much about the dying part, life implies death anyways. Its a miracle (of science) that we’re alive on this ridiculous planet in the first place. 

*With this being said – I really hope I don’t come off all “this is how his cancer affects me, boo hoo”. Cancer is not my reality, I don’t want to pretend like it is. 

**technically it could be cured with surgery but like everything else, it’s all chance and circumstance. 

Defining happiness

What do I want? For a question so simple I find I have an incredibly difficult time answering it. This past week I’ve tried to focus on happiness, and what that means to me. Does happiness mean achieving this ‘perfect’ image I have in my head of myself or living the life I want with out self-inflicted stress?

I’m finding it is somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. Perfection is an impossible and useless goal while the latter scenario can lead to complacency. I want to challenge myself, but I don’t want to burden myself with the unattainable.

Ok – enough existentialism for one blog post. I don’t want to get too serious. This week I ran, I did yoga, I did an art class, I did some tiny home improvements, I tried a new recipe. It was great. I pushed myself on Tuesday with a 7-mile run in the cold and dark, then I took it easy (relatively – ashtanga is not what I’d call easy) and did yoga Saturday morning.

So my conclusion is that I have no conclusions, but things are going well.

Mind games

I go back and forth between wanting to share really personal things about my anxiety and inner struggles here – but ultimately I think it is both cathartic for me and possibly helpful to people that might experience similar things. This also serves as a way that I can chart progress as well as remember previous states to learn from. So. With that being said this week was weird. I’ll start with the mileage…

Monday: 4.12 miles

Tuesday: 6 miles (2.5 WU, 10 X :30 on, :60 off, CD)

Wednesday: off

Thursday: off

Friday: 3.10 miles

Saturday: 4.54 miles

Sunday: 6.00 miles

Total miles run: 23.76

I’m finishing up a big project at work and ended up working more than I’d planned Wednesday and Thursday, and Saturday I had 9 miles on my plan but only made it 4.5. Not that I collapsed or anything, well, ok maybe mentally collapsed. I emotionally could not complete the run. Maybe it was compounded stress from trying to get things done at work or some critical thoughts I had the previous night, but I started feeling panicky 2 miles into my run, lost control of my breathing and heart rate and felt the overwhelming feeling that I was going to sob. It wasn’t due to some thoughts I was dwelling on in my brain – more a wave of ‘sickness’ that overcame me out of nowhere. I tried to suppress it for a while and get my rhythm back but I couldn’t. What I’ve come to conclude is it was a panic attack, which I hadn’t experienced since last July.

I ended up pulling off the trail and walking through some neighborhoods and embarrassingly – cried some. I felt incredibly ridiculous and weak. Eventually I collected myself and ran back to the car to wait for Scott, who instantly knew something was wrong as he never saw me again during his run. Once we were back at home I shut myself in the bedroom and cried for about 5 minutes. And then it was done. Out. Like a stomach virus that you need to vomit up. It’s fucking weird.

Sunday we met with the group run again where easily finished 6 miles, at just sub-9:00 pace, all while chatting with a friend.

So…. begrudgingly, I admit that I still have some personal things to sort through. Or am sorting through. Things that are intrinsically tied to running and image. How does one get out of their head?

Training update and recent revelations

I am FINALLY back to running. It seemed very touch and go there for a bit. I would run here and there, then get set back by a cold, then run again… then be stuck in bed…

And just as I was starting to get over the cold again I was struck down the day after returning from our Boston/NH New Year’s trip. It probably didn’t help that one day I ran in the slushy snowy rain around the city. I was basically bedridden for all of last week.

Anyways, with the assistance of doxycycline, I have prevailed! And just in time to kick off my 16-week training plan for the Mini-Marathon in May. The Mini is hailed as the nation’s largest half-marathon (which may or may not be true) and is the culmination of the city’s celebrations surrounding the Indy 500 race. I spectated it last year, and ran my first 10 miles in months if you remember, and am looking forward to racing it this year.

Official training began yesterday with 3 miles downtown from work. Scott advised me to start small since I’d been sick for so long – and that was fine with me. The mileage was fine, but the conditions were a mess. It was below freezing, ice was all over the sidewalks and the wind was raging. I took my 5 mile speed work to the treadmill today (1 mile WU, 9:00, 8:40, 8:30, 1 mile CD) and was pleased those were relatively comfortable miles.

Noticeably different to me was my experience on the treadmill. Not often am I running more than 4 miles indoors as that is about as long as I can keep my attention. But today I went in with the mindset of ‘training’ and the miles flew by. I was there to work. Not to work out. Not to keep a new year’s resolution. Not to read a magazine and fuck around on the elliptical. Having one successful ‘training period’ under my belt has really bolstered my confidence. I’ve chosen a more intense training plan this go (volume-wise) but I don’t have any of the fears I did last time. Mostly I’m just excited to see where I can go from here.

Another realization I came to was how different my attitude has been lately concerning my appearance. I’ve been reading Derek Jensen’s The Culture of Make Believe and it really is putting dominant culture into perspective for me. It is much easier for me to reject beauty standards once I realize that they’re a tool to keep us as insecure needy consumers. And are a means to further oppress women, to limit our role to being pretty objects for men. I felt empowered on the treadmill knowing I wasn’t running to ‘look good’ or ‘burn calories’. I was there to fucking run.(Might’ve helped that I was listening to Sleater Kinney).

Oh! And I signed up for the ENTIRE Dino trail series. That is pretty much a trail 15K once a month starting in March. So yeah, 2015 is looking good!