28 February 2012

Living Strong?

I have been reading Lance Armstrong's book "It's Not About the Bike".  The book is only 232 pages but it feels more like I'm working through this book rather than just reading.  I can relate so much to so many of the things that he says.  In one of his very first paragraphs he says In bike racing... "you don't fly up a hill.  You struggle slowly and painfully up a hill, and maybe, if you work very hard, you get to the top ahead of everybody else.  Cancer is like that, too.  Good, strong people get cancer, and they do all the right things to beat it, and they still die.  That is the essential truth that you learn.  People die.  And after you learn it, all other matters seem irrelevant.  They just seem small."

People keep telling me that they can't believe that I keep going to the gym and working out so hard.  See, I feel like I just HAVE to.  I WANT to.  I am now learning how to articulate that...

No one said anything like that to me when I was extremely obese...  then, it was "great job... keep up the hard work"... as if then it was the best for me to work out because it would help me to loose weight (it was and I needed the pushes to keep trying).  Never mind the difficulties involved when trying to exercise in a room full of 'fit' people believing that I would never look like them, be able to endure like that, be that coordinated.  I lacked the self confidence to even believe that I was capable of being better than I was in that moment.  Somehow, with lots of encouragement (and blogging), I found that self confidence.  I moved from the back of the group fitness room to the front.  I introduced myself to the instructors so that they would know my name and hopefully push me to my limits even on days when I was just in the building to use the childcare!  I got stronger, physically, mentally, and spiritually.  I dealt with fears.  I found the same girl at the gym that was smart and strong enough to excel in math and science in High School, College, and in the world of Government Defense Contracting.  I pushed myself.  I let others push me.  I found limits that I didn't know existed and pushed right past them.  I got certified to teach Body Pump and found a confidence and alter ego that was capable of pushing myself to the max while encouraging and challenging others to do the same!  I didn't stop there... I got AFAA certified so that I could teach other group fitness classes!  I was taking step classes all over Arlington and Fort Worth trying to find my favorites so that I could figure out what my specific style of step would look like and how I would challenge others! 

But that's about the time that I experienced a seizure followed by brain surgery and a cancer diagnosis.  Something Lance Armstrong describes as racing down a hill on a bike feeling accomplished for climbing that mountain, only to be smashed into a ditch by a 4x4 pickup truck!  A moment when you are grateful to be alive but just plain pissed off by such a sudden and major derailment in your training. 

But then what do you do?  You get on the bike, go home, nurse the wounds, and restart your training with new limits to push through or allow to heal.  He says even when he got so sick it was a struggle just to go on a short 30 min ride, he did anyway, because he could...  because when he was riding he felt alive and it was a perfect reminder to keep fighting and pushing.  That made so much sense to me!  Going to the gym for a class was on my schedule and a part of my life just like brushing my teeth, getting dressed, and cooking dinner.  Not always something I wanted to do, but always something that I needed to do. 

I can remember the day last summer that my doctor said it was okay for me to return to 'routine' activities and I asked her about going to the gym.  She said, sure, you can go and ride a bike or walk on the treadmill.  I made a face and said I wanted to do a Body Pump class!  (I'm pretty sure David was holding his head on by rubbing his temples, he knew what was coming, he knows how stubborn I am.)  She said she had never heard of that...  so I pulled out my iPhone and showed her a video. She showed it to her nurse and physician assistant and they all three said, "YOU did this before?  Wow.  Ouch."  I proudly said, I taught that before and want to again!  They then realized I was strong and willing to fight this disease with all that I could muster if they would just let me LIVE in the meantime.  As soon as I was able to convince my doctor, David, and my mom that I would survive the experience...  I drug myself out of the bed and into some gym clothes and talked someone into driving me to a pump class!

Last week when we saw the oncologist, I asked her how many more monthly rounds of chemo I would need to do.  I don't know why, but as we are approaching the one year mark I guess I expected some kind of change in my treatment regiment.  I was wrong.  I was caught off guard.  She said, "well this is round 6 of probably 18-24 rounds of chemo."  Wow.  I have to keep taking this stuff for another year... at least.  I was (and still am) devastated.  Here I am getting stronger in so many ways but I still have so much fighting ahead of me.  I hate "chemo week" each month.  I hate waking up for 6 days straight feeling like I have a terrible hangover... like my head is pounding as if I didn't sleep, thirsty, and nauseous.  Yet worse because the only fun I had the night before was swallowing some nasty smelling pills, having to sit up straight for an hour so that it would go down and hopefully not burn my digestive tract, and then falling asleep by 9 sometimes in a puddle of tears only to wake up knowing I have more mornings just like that one to look forward to tomorrow.  On off weeks, I have to get lots of blood work done.  Then every other month I have an MRI... sometimes a simple one that is only 30 minutes long, but other times a 2 hour MRI.  I have one of the long ones coming up on March 20.  I hate having to be so still in a tiny noisy tube for 2 long hours, but I do like that it gives my oncologist so much detailed information about this cancer that we are on a mission to kill... to remove from my body... all the while trying to keep my body strong enough to keep fighting.

At the gym, my new favorite game to play is "excuses".  I started this with my new friend Virginia.  She was about to give up.  She made some comment about her age or her knee (I honestly don't remember)... I just remember that I said, "oh, if you want to compare excuses... I'd love to play!"  She laughed and took me on.  I won!  I showed her my brain surgery scar and told her I was currently going through chemo.  She took a drink of her water and we pushed each other through the rest of that kickboxing class!  Not two weeks later in a pump class, Virginia was behind me again and another woman was beside her.  She was groaning and made a comment about being too old to finish this class, it's just too hard for a woman her age she told me... and commented that I was still young.  I told her that I love to compare excuses, did she want to play?  Virginia laughed and said, "say NO, she will win and you will be challenged..."  The other lady played anyway and lost in our game of excuse comparison.  She finished that Pump class and pushed herself right past some limits she was putting on herself.  Now they both get near me when they can... we push each other.  I don't want to be treated like I'm sick but I'm still careful!  I always make sure there is someone in the room that knows where my seizure meds are located in my bag along with where my phone is and how to contact David if needed.
I just really struggle with the extra challenges that this disease puts on the people around me.  It has added a tremendous financial burden to our budget and specifically to David. When I have "sick" days, it makes Kirstyn ask and worry that I might die during the night. When I spend an entire day at the doctor for MRIs and reports, it makes James ask if I'm going to have to go away and stay at the hospital.   In many ways, we have all had to grow up a little sooner than expected.  Our faith and love is growing stronger.  We are trying to be much more careful with our words.  I still have moments of short temper, quick words, and deep depression...  Writing helps me think it through and your responses challenge and encourage me.

I made up my mind a while ago that I was going to fight this as hard as I could while continuing to live the best I know how.  I get frustrated, I get depressed, I deal with paralyzing fear, I seek the face of Jesus, and I ask for prayer and encouragement.  I want my kids to continue to learn from me.  I want to keep challenging myself.  I want to keep learning.  See, with or without cancer, I'm still the same stubborn me! 

But I'm slowly and humbly realizing that I really am an example of LIVING STRONG.  So do me a favor, put aside what ever excuse you are currently using and try to do something that you know will be rewarding but difficult... just make sure the end result will be worth it and focus on that, because the journey there may be much more challenging than you expected!

“What it lies in our power to do, it lies in our power not to do.” - Aristotle

18 February 2012

My Chance to Share!

Last Monday for the Arlington YMCA fundraising and Livestrong program kickoff luncheon, I was asked to share a little about my cancer story and how the Y has helped me.  I was honored to be asked to speak in front of many people that I have never even met.  Many of my friends have asked how it all went...  I actually felt very good about my talk and was more than overwhelmed when I received a standing ovation at the conclusion of my talk.  For those of you that were not there, I thought I could at least share the notes that I made for myself:

(I introduced myself as a group fitness instructor and told them if I got too nervous, I would calm down if I just made them all do pushups or squats...  we got started with a little laugh and I calmed down and was ready to share.)


I’ve been overweight or obese my entire life until, after having a daughter, I made up my mind to get healthy.  I put on my facebook page that I was on a mission to be healthy through Bible Study, Clean Eating, and Exercise.
My original "life" verse:
“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”  Philippians 4:12-13

My Y Journey:

Jan 2011 – was recruited by Downtown Fort Worth YMCA to launch Body Pump first to the corporate offices and then to the members.  Took on only one class because I was teaching two per week at the time at Golds Gym and subbing Pump both at Golds and LOA.

Feb – Golds shut down very unexpectedly and I started working out more and more in both the Arlington and Fort Worth Y’s.  Mostly because I was looking for the best step classes to learn to be a step instructor myself. 

March – passed AFAA certification planning to teach step classes in addition to Pump and not long after that I stopped teaching pump in Fort Worth.  My kids just loved coming to this Y for kid fit and the playground.

June 1 – at probably the most physically fit time in my entire life.  I took a step class here and had my kids not been so tired I would have driven over to LOA for a late pump class.  Instead we went home and all did our normal routine.  When I woke up on the next Thursday morning I was in the Neuro ICU at Plaza medical center in downtown Fort Worth and my husband had been through hell.  I had had several seizures in my sleep, he had performed CPR while waiting on the ambulances and I had been first taken by ambulance to MCA and then transferred to Plaza. 

June 7 – the swelling in my brain had reduced enough that they were able to do brain surgery to try and remove as much of the mass they had discovered in my brain as possible.  It was determined that I had oligoastrocytoma (two kinds of brain cancer) and they were only able to remove about 30% of the cancer.

While in the hospital the Ditto PTA moms brought me a big bag of everything – from restaurant gift cards, movie gift cards, bowling, scholarships to camp Thurman, and one that was huge…. A note saying that my kids were given scholarships to any of the Arlington Y summer day camps that they wanted to attend…

After seeing my oncologist in Dallas we determined that I would begin an intense 6 weeks of both chemo and radiation to try to slow the aggressiveness of my cancer.  I began that on July 18th.  See, no one tells you that when you are diagnosed with cancer, you also need to win the lottery.  Pharmacy bills start to look more like car payments and are then stacked on top of paying for weekly blood work, monthly MRIs and oncologist visits, and on and on…  At the end of July and August my kids attended 3 Y summer day camps at NO COST to us and loved every minute.  It was something I would never have asked or applied for but it was such a huge blessing because it allowed me to rest without those little worried eyes glued to my every move.  Since that 6 weeks of treatment I have continued to do one week of monster chemo per month and I come to the Y several times per week even when I don’t really feel up to it because it is normal for my kids and they love the kid fit program and playing with the other kids.  I love that they get tired too and I can trust knowing they are being taken care of.   
I want to make sure that I am making memories with my kids and keeping myself as healthy as I can... spiritual, physical, and emotional health all work together!

"To die is poignantly bitter, but the idea of having to die without having lived is unbearable." - Erich Fromm.  And at only 33 years old, this has never felt more true!
My new life verse:
"Because she loves me," says the Lord, "I will rescue her; I will protect her, for she acknowledges my name. She will call on me, and I will answer her; I will be with her in trouble, I will deliver her and honor her. With long life I will satisfy her and show her my salvation." (Psalm 91:14-16 NIV)

We all need to keep in mind what Abraham Lincoln said, “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count.  It’s the life in your years.” 

The YMCA and the Livestrong program fit this quote better than anything else I’ve ever read:  said by the character Thomas Hunter in Ted Dekker’s Circle Trilogy
“Most men and women will yield to the strong currents sucking them into the seas of ruin.  Only the strongest in mind and spirit will swim against that current.” 
Thank you Arlington YMCA for being a part of helping me have a strong mind, body, and spirit!


Like I said, it was an honor to be asked to speak and I pray that the scriptures I shared touched someone and I know that so many people are watching and many are telling me that I inspire them.  That feels like a big responsibility, but guess what, we are ALL being watched by someone, especially our kids, so make your actions count for good and keep in mind that the people you are watching will make mistakes because none of us are perfect... encourage and push forward!  Thank you so much to those of you that take the time to encourage me, pray for me, and challenge me!