Archive for April, 2011

It’s Not a Sprint, It’s a Marathon!

Monday, April 25th, 2011

Yesterday morning, after round three of chemo, I woke up and immediately made my bed so I wouldn’t crawl back into it.  It was Easter and I wanted to be there for my family, hiding eggs, playing games, and watching my kids eating ridiculous amounts of candy.  But, I was secretly wishing there was a pill the Doctors could give me to knock me out and then wake me when the nightmare is over. 

But there isn’t a magic pill, as many people that have gone before me know; which brings me to an apology I owe to a woman whose post I read on a breast cancer forum some time back.  She said that the most she expected of herself each day during her chemo treatment is to take a shower, get into her sweats, curl up on the couch and watch “Desperate Housewives.”  She considered that a good day.  In a past post, I defiantly vowed that this would not happen to me.  Do you remember?  I sure do.  Well, woman with the post from the breast cancer forum, go right ahead and put those sweats on girlfriend, watch “Desperate Housewives” and do whatever you need to do to get better.  Chemo is brutal, cancer sucks and sometimes trash T.V. is the only sane thing that makes sense in the midst of this insane disease. 

I am humbled. 

Every day is a challenge.  It would truly take a super hero to put on a brave face and stay strong all day every day when your head feels like it is going to explode, your eye lids twitch uncontrollably, your stomach churns and roils, your legs tingle and cramp, sleep is better than sex and sweat pants are your preferable choice of clothing.  In fact, except for a few hours on Saturday when I put on some jeans, make-up and a smile for band practice, I wore my sweats yesterday, the day before, the day before and the day before.  Five days in all.

Not only do I feel physically sick but it is utterly frustrating when your mind wants to do things that your body can’t.  My brain wants to go for a run, go dancing, and hang at the beach but my body wants to throw up, twitch, and sleep.

I admit I am not good at being a spectator of life.  That’s just not me.  Being forced to be in the bleachers when I want to be on the playing field is like putting a cat on a leash.  I want to hang myself with it.

But I won’t because that is not me either. 

I have simply hit a wall.  In other words, I WANT TO BE DONE WITH CHEMO NOW!!!  My friend Isis was trying to lift my spirits the other day and said, “Deanne, it is not a sprint but a marathon.  You are going to need a lot of stamina and mental discipline.  But, if anybody can do it, you can!”  I know she is right.  Sometimes I just need to be reminded. 

I actually raced in a Marathon ten years ago for the Leukemia Society in the San Diego Rock ‘n Roll Marathon.  Well, I actually walked.  It took me 6 hours and 25 minutes.  Not too shabby.  At mile twenty, however, I “hit the wall,” like many marathoners do.  I had six miles to go and I started to question whether or not I could finish.  My muscles ached and the balls of my feet were screaming, but I did it.  How?  Just like Isis said, “Stamina and mental discipline.”  I finished all 26.2 miles.  It was truly one of the proudest moments of my life.  I felt that if I could finish a marathon I could do anything.

San Diego Rock 'N Roll Marathon

Little did I know back then that my next marathon would be a battle with breast cancer, the course is different, but the process the same, stamina and mental discipline. 

Stamina is part physical endurance, preparation, training and pacing myself for the long haul.  But there is also another important component of stamina that melds into mental discipline like determination, drive and specific coping mechanism to get you through the difficult moments, over the “wall” and through to the finish line.

We all hit a wall at one point in our lives.  The trick is to figure out “how” to get over it.  After some research, as I anxiously looked for coping mechanisms to get me through round three of chemo, I found a few ideas to incorporate in my own race to the finish line.  My favorite was “The Top 10 Marathon Mind Games.”  These steps are so versatile; you can mold them to fit any circumstance, even cancer.

Top 10 Marathon Mind Games 

1) Have a personal mantra for the race. Are you running the race for somebody? Do you have a favorite inspirational quote that you can repeat in your mind? Think about why you started training for this marathon in the first place and how much effort you have put into getting to where you are. Whenever the race begins to get touch, repeat your mantra over and over in your head.

2) Break down the race into components. At Mile 6, you do NOT want to be thinking to yourself, “Only 20 more miles to go”! That just gets depressing and presents an overwhelming feeling to the runner. Instead, focus on getting to that half marathon point. Then, begin mentally dividing the course up into smaller sections such as 5 mile increments, or break down the course by landmarks.

3) If you are allowed to wear headphones on the course, then it’s time to crank up that music! Turn on your favorite fast-paced song and keep your legs moving to the beat. If you just have to take a walk-break, then force yourself to finish jogging to this song before taking your break.

4) Find landmarks in the distance and force yourself to run to that point. “If I can just make it to that stoplight, then I can take a quick break”. Once you get back running again, pick another landmark and run to that.

5) Pull yourself toward fellow runners. Find yourself a runner ahead of you and pretend like you are being drawn to that person with an invisible rope. Let that person do all the work while you slowly pull yourself toward him. Once you’ve caught up to that person, find someone else in the distance and aim for them.

6) Rely on friends and family to help you out in those last 5 miles. It helps tremendously to see the faces of family or friends in that last stretch. If the marathon allows it, they could even jog with you side-by-side for that hard last stretch.

7) Check out the scenery. Many marathons run alongside very interesting courses, and you’re likely to see many landmarks you haven’t seen before. Instead of concentrating on the pain, check out all of the interesting scenery (and people) around you.

8) If the scenery isn’t doing it for you, use associative and dissociative techniques to distract you. Associative techniques include paying close attention to your stride, breathing, course conditions, and fellow runners. Dissociative techniques include imagining that you’re somewhere completely different–perhaps running on the beach or even on your trusty treadmill at home. Experienced marathoners are more inclined to be successful with associative techniques, while more inexperienced marathoners excel with dissociative techniques.

9) Think about what’s going to happen at the finish line. You are going to finish it strong, get an awesome medal, eat a TON of good food, take the best shower of your life, and then crash on the couch for a great nap. The sooner you get there, the sooner this can all happen!

10) Think about how lucky you are to be able to be where you are now. You’re likely very healthy and fit, compared to the vast number of people who would kill to be able to complete a marathon. Remind yourself that you’re in great shape, have had wonderful training, and will get yourself to that finish line!

Maggie's Carrot Cake made with Jelly Belly's

So if you find yourself “hitting the wall,” come up with your own personal mantra, play some loud music, find landmarks, rely on friends, visualize the “finish line” and remember how lucky you are to be where you are right now.  These mind games helped me turn Easter into a very sweet nice day with my family.  We hid eggs, made a carrot cake, and even played Monopoly.  I am so glad I made my bed.

Do You Want To Get High Today?

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

Yesterday, a shiny bright star, Emily Quinlan, walked into my home and brightened my day.  She delivered delicious grilled chicken, a mac’n cheese casserole with broccoli, a fresh salad with balsamic dressing, mini brownies and wine for dinner.  Oh, and I can’t forget the chocolate covered pretzels.  I love anything dipped in chocolate.  I had never met this woman in my life.  She is the mom of one of Maggie’s teammates on her new basketball team.  She caught wind of my battle with breast cancer and decided to step in and help.  Not only did she deliver a meal but she and Coach Darrin set up an account on “Lotsa Helping Hands”, a free, private website community for organizing friends, families and colleagues during times of need.  Many families have signed up.  Most I do not know.  In some ways, I am blown away.  On the other hand, I have always had faith in the human race.  I am not surprised by their desire to help.  So, what is it that drives a person to help a complete stranger? 

Answer:  Humanity, compassion, kindness, concern, selflessness and altruism.  And the benefits:  The “helpers high”.  Joan Borysenko, Ph.D. describes it like this.  “Helpers High is an intense feeling of joy – an expansive, enlivening energy that makes you grateful to be alive.  It kicks in like a rush of euphoria after a good deed and then mellows into a longer period of calm, contentment, and emotional well-being.”  I am sure all of us have felt this high at one time or another.  Or, at least, I sure hope so.

Maybe I am naïve, but I believe people are basically good EVEN after watching the first episode of “Mob Wives” the other night on VH1.  Ok, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I was lured in by the commercials to check out these whack jobs but I just couldn’t resist!  Such negativity, such hate, such selfishness.  These women have lost their way. 

 “Negative emotions are “all about me”.  The “Mob Wives” are the epitome of the “all about me” syndrome.  The opposite of negative emotions, of course, are positive emotions.  Positive emotions “free the self from the self.”  Who does not want to be free of ourselves?  People try to escape from themselves everyday by overindulging in T.V., food, alcohol, drugs, sex, you name it.  Maybe sex shouldn’t be on this list.  Anyway, it seems to me that freeing ourselves through good deeds is a better answer.  Get that “helpers high” by helping instead of a sugar or drug induced high.  Research on the benefits of altruism shows that it helps reduce stress, increases your feeling of well-being, offers meaning and purpose, and SURPRISE, helps you live longer. 

Mother Teresa lived to be 87, a woman who dedicated her entire life to helping strangers in the most dire of circumstances.

You don’t see those long term results from martinis or double fudge chocolate ice cream. 

However, I must pause for a moment since it is 420 Day, the unofficial holiday enjoyed by pot-smokers around the world.  In your honor, I abstain from adding pot in my list above.  The jury is still out on that.

Following Mother Teresa’s death, Pope John Paul II gave her the title Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.  In my small, insignificant opinion, she is the quintessence of humanity and should be canonized a Saint.  We need more people like her.  We need more reality shows about women like her, out with “Mob Wives” in with “God Wives”.  I can’t believe as a “recovering catholic” who usually refers to an omnipotent power as the “Universe” just wrote that, but I think I am on to something.  Mother Teresa was definitely on to something.

So, if you are not a pot smoker and you want to get high today, reach out to someone, do a good deed, pay it forward, give away your car, donate to “Goodwill”, cut your hair and donate it to “Locks of Love” (or for you animal lovers give it to the birds), offer your time, prepare a meal for someone that can’t, hug somebody or simply smile at a stranger and join all the stoners today on their high.

Bad Days Make the Good Days Better

Sunday, April 10th, 2011

When I was finally feeling like myself again, energized, alive and no more metallic mouth, it was time for my second dose of chemo.  It’s not easy walking into the doctor’s office for a self induced flu. 

But much of the pain in our lives is self induced, especially from small stuff like getting annoyed with traffic, a crowded theatre, excessive homework, husbands and hairballs.  As Richard Carlson, author of “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” wisely states, “So many people spend so much of their life energy “sweating the small stuff” that they completely lose touch with the magic and beauty of life.”  It is true, taking precious time from our short lives sweating over traffic and hairballs only takes you into those dismal swamplands and further and further away from the wonders of life.  My stress is not going to make the car in front of me go any faster.  My stress will not make the cancer go away. 

I realize worrying about cancer is not the same as stressing over the car in front of me driving at a snail’s pace.  Cancer is real, life threatening, scary, and big.  The car with the old lady in it is just a simple annoyance.      

I have heard some people say that cancer has been a gift to them and in some weird dark way, I have to agree.  How you might ask?  First, it is a lot easier to recognize the small stuff when faced with big stuff.  Second, the small stuff just doesn’t seem that big anymore. 

But, what about the big stuff?  How does one learn to not sweat the big stuff?  Understandably, it can cause a lot of sweating. 

As I am writing this blog, my mom called.  Apparently, my cousin Tommy committed suicide this morning.  His story is a sad one.  He is a victim of unwarranted circumstances.  It is going to be very difficult to understand and process this one.  Tommy, you will be missed. 

When it comes to death, health, marriage, parenting, financial issues, etc., it takes a bit more work than simply not sweating.  Again, Richard Carlson points out, “When our familiar world falls apart, especially through the pain of death — of losing someone we love — we are shaken at our very core.  We realize, perhaps for the first time, that there is no easy or quick way out.  We must go through the process, which will be a little different for each of us — the common thread being pain.”

Yes, there will be miserable moments.  Yes, it may hurt like hell.  The pain can be overwhelming at times.  But in time, the pain will subside, joy will return.  Somehow, we will endure, become more resilient, and slowly heal.  The key word in Carlson’s statement is “process”.  Like everything in life, including my battle with cancer, it is a process. It will take time.  There will be moments of pain, and then, miraculously, the joy will slowly begin to seep back into your life like the sun breaking through the clouds after a rainy day.  It is inevitable.  You cannot hold back the sun.  You cannot hold back the beauty and magic of life.

I look at it this way.  Without the lows, we would not know the highs.  Without the big stuff, there would be no small stuff.  There is no good without evil, love without hate, hero without a bad guy, happiness without sadness, dark without light, or yin without yang.  Neither would be able to exist without the other.  It is all interconnected.  One gives rise to the other, hand in hand like couples in love. 

And like the tide, it ebbs and flows.  Life, love, health and money come and go.  Life is not stagnant.  It is crude, organic constantly shifting, changing, and morphing, in and out, back and forth, up and down.   

Knowing that there will be better days gets you through the tough ones.  And, as Reese Witherspoon’s character, Lisa, in the movie “How Do You Know” says, “Bad days make the good days better.” 

A few days before my second chemo treatment, I was on a high.  I was finally feeling better after my first round of chemo.  No more metallic mouth, my fatigue had subsided and I felt like I could leap over tall buildings in a single bound.  I threw a fabulous birthday party for Maggie, Daisy Chain, Maggie and the Maggots, delicious food, one-hundred cupcakes, family, friends and gorgeous smiles beamed filling my home and my soul.  The next day, I found myself driving around town, windows down, radio blaring, sporting my new do.  Nothing could bring me down, nothing.  It felt good to be alive.    

A few days later, I went in for my second chemo treatment.  I was hit hard and down for the count.  The chemo was winning.  I slowed down, slipped into my cute heart pajamas, watched “Mad Men” and took a couple days of rest.

Sunday morning, I flipped it and reversed it.  With some help from my family and friends, I woke up and began to pack for our annual homeschooling camping trip to Anza Borrego.  I felt like shit but I rather feel like shit with the people I love camping in the desert than alone in my home.  I put on my cute blue jean shorts and tank top, packed up our tent, and drove three hours to the desert, where I filled my life with wildflowers, big blue sky, endless night stars, flip flop walks, fabulous food (I could not taste but it looked good), rainbows and friends, lots and lots of friends.

This weekend, I’m down again.  I have a really awful cold and a chemo induced period that seems to visit weekly.  But I will get up again.  Like the tide, I will come back.  Like the sun, I will rise.  Like flowers in the springtime, I will bloom again.  I have faith in this process.  In fact, the longer I am on this planet, the more I have experienced, the more faith I have.  As Ann Morrow Lindbergh writes: 

We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. We leap at the flow of time and resist in terror its ebb. We are afraid it will never return. We insist on permanency, on duration, on continuity; when the only continuity possible in life, as in love, is in growth, in fluidity, in freedom.