Sunday, November 6, 2011

Triumph... and paying the piper with the help of some friends. (With friends like them, who needs enemies?)

The LIVESTRONG Challenge changes you. It just does. On an emotional level, a physical level, and dare I saw, on a molecular level. The experience, the Challenge itself, the people, and every moment become indelible.

For me, this year, it was a mix of emotions. I was exhilarated that we'd achieved Ride for the Roses status. We'd met that goal, still leaving the goal of Yellow Jersey for the future - it's not often that you can achieve a huge goal and still have a further goal within the same genre, but LIVESTRONG sets many bars to reach. Along with all the amazing dinners, receptions, experiences, and swag comes the opportunity to challenge yourself in both the ride and the 5k run.

I am not a runner. I can proudly say that I never have been. Yes, I can sprint, at least I used to, in basketball. Such is the life of a forward - you have to sprint from one end of the court. I always prided myself on always being the first to be where I needed to be, much to the surprise of other players, as I was typically twice their size. But that was as far as I would go, and that did my knees in years ago, along with too many years of advanced ballet too young.

I decided to do the 5k. I knew I wouldn't be running all of it - forget training for the run, I hadn't managed to train for the bike ride. I had no business "running" it. But, I wanted to run some of it. So, I brought my only sneakers, my Reebok Reetones (yes, the ones that were recalled), got a firm sports bra (LIVESTRONG, of course) to wear under my t-shirt, and got ready. I was going to walk all of it except the last bit to the finish line.
But the adrenaline got to me at the start, and I decided that I had superwoman powers, and I decided to run. I turned to my kids and said, "Ok, let's go." And they both started whining. I reminded my daughter that she's the one who decided to participate in the 5k in the first place, long before we got the complimentary entries. And I reminded my son that he kept wanting to do triathlons, so a 5k was nothing. My son and I started to jog, and my daughter just pouted and walked. I told my son to go ahead, and I let her catch up to me. So we walked together and enjoyed the walk. We did silly walks uphill on Congress, we stopped to see the sights and pose for pictures. Until my son was back in sight and we were on a flat going downhill. And then it was game on. I jogged a bit, and then went back to walking. I encouraged my son to continue so he could had me my rose at the finish line.

Just as I was turning a corner, my son's iPod that he loaned me played, "Fix You." As the melody turned to a driving beat, I upped my pace. I ran for the remainder of the song. I meant to fast-forward through the next song, and somehow, I ended up locking the song that forced me to run into a repeated loop. So, at this point, everytime the beat picked up, I started running. The words of the song struck me, as I passed some LIVESTRONG staffers that had been sending words of encouragement through my treatment were on the course and started cheering me on. I couldn't stop running in front of them, and I started crying a bit.

My son was a good couple of blocks ahead, jogging, and my daughter was starting to catch up again. She stopped and gave me a flower, and the music turned from mellow to driving, and she ran with me, as we sang out loud together. I got through another few blocks, and then, I could see the finish line in the distance. As the song started over again, I told my daughter I was going to run the rest of the way. She pouted, and said she couldn't, so I kissed her and told her I'd meet her at the end.

And I ran. And it hurt. But I kept moving forward. My run became a jog as the reality of the incline of the bridge came into sight. This was an incline I would suffer riding up, let alone running up. But I pressed forward, and as I did, the tears became more frequent. I saw my son cross the finish line and move over to where the volunteers were with the roses. He was in place, now all I had to do was to reach him.

I started to hear the announcers, see the black-shirted staff members come into view, and Doug Ulman's figure up ahead. And then I saw the split - between the masses and the survivors. I started to weep. I was in disbelief this was happening. I was running in a 5k. I would have to go through the survivor chute, not the general chute. I'd be getting my first yellow rose - a prize and a symbol that I really had cancer. Doug Ulman greeted me as I tried to run, and I don't even think I responded - I was blubbering and sobbing. I saw my son, who had my rose reached out. I passed by all the other volunteers, and, with one hand, I took the rose, and with the other, wrapped my arm around my son, hugged him, and started to cry uncontrollably, as he moved me across the finish line. It was over. I had done it. I got my first yellow rose. And I ran in a 5k.

The next day was the bike ride. Again, I didn't want to anger my still-healing wounds from my double mastectomy. Not that I felt much of anything other than tightness and some swelling, but my doctor kept telling me I was healing. Fellow survivors kept telling me I was healing. So, I had purchased another serious sports bra. It compressed, provided support, nothing moved when I moved. I kind of overdid things on the 5k, though.

My legs weren't "there," as we say in cycling. I didn't have my legs. I struggled on every incline, not just the big first uphill that declared several casualties, sidelining us and forcing us to walk. Every incline hurt. I didn't have my groove. As much as it felt from the waist up that I hadn't accomplished much, my legs weren't happy, and it seemed that this year the course was hillier than the year prior. And, I found the tightness in my chest made it more and more difficult for me to breathe. I kept trying to breath into my back, as my pilates instructor had advised me to do. But it wasn't happening. I wasn't getting enough air. I had to stop.

Over the next day or two, I'd noticed that my left breast was still a bit pink and slightly swollen, but it wasn't alarmingly different from the right.

But it was on the trip home, as American Airlines directed us all over the Chicago Airport from gate to gate, running all around with bags, a regular bra, and after a long, extended flight from Austin, that my left breast started feeling really sore. By the time we arrived in Newark, it was clearly inflamed. It was now a bright pink, and I could see that my shirt was being pulled to the left thanks to the swelling. By the next morning, it was almost a full cup size larger than my right.

I went to Dr. Nordberg, my plastic surgeon, to look at the redness and swelling and to see if I was still on course with Round 2 of chemo. Instead, chemo was postponed and I was sent for a sonogram. The sonogram showed nothing more than edema - it was just swollen - with no obvious source. We determined that I'd possibly overdone things a bit in Austin, and that the entire American Airlines debacle had sealed the fate of the irritation, literally blowing it up out of proportion. I was put on a rest program, no pilates, no nothing. Just light movement/work, no housework or anything strenuous.

I did what I could to keep to that. For a week, I kept low. However, then the freak snowstorm hit. I was taking it easy, lounging on my sofa, working on my blog for the Journal News, going over some stuff for Danny's and for my full-time job, and the power went out. For 2 nights, the kids and I cowered under the covers of my bed as we watched the temperature indoors plummet from 68 degrees to just over 40 degrees on Monday afternoon. I was feeling sicker and sicker. I developed a fever, just over 99 degrees, by Sunday night. I kept calling NYSEG, pled for help from NYSEG, etc, for someplace to go other than a warming shelter. This wasn't snob appeal, but I knew that my immune system was already suppressed from the chemo, and again with whatever irritation was developing in my breast - I couldn't afford to be in big crowds for an extended period of time of folks that also may be sick. Something as simple as a cold or a flu could prove to be really problematic. I kept trying to get a hold of NYSEG to explain this, but they kept blowing me off. I asked if they could at least contribute towards a hotel, as they clearly weren't reacting responsibly. They didn't even reply.

I saw the redness in my breast get even worse, and now, there was discomfort. I saw Dr. Nordberg again, after the kids, cats and I relocated Monday night to my aunt and uncle's house in Hamden, CT, for what was going to be a check-in to see if I could proceed with chemo. Instead, I was admitted to the hospital. A second sonogram revealed big pockets of infection around the base of my left breast.

I've been in the hospital since, on an antibiotic cocktail prescribed by Dr. Adler-Klein, the infectious disease guru of Stamford Hospital, that can only be administered via IV. It's likely I won't be released until at least Monday, depending on how the infection is doing. It's plateaued, in my opinion, from the other day.

One drug, in particular, leaves a horrible aftertaste, plaguing the back of my tongue, as though I have terrible chronic halitosis and I haven't brushed my teeth for days. Fortunately, no one can smell that.

But, just like American Airlines and NYSEG, that made what was a surmountable mole hill into an infectious mountain, I'm left with a bitter taste in the mouth.
NYSEG, this one is for YOU!

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