Sunday, March 19, 2017

Last (at Saint Pat's Road Race) but not least

With Ben and Carly before the race
Five years after my fourth bone marrow transplant, I ran the Saint Patrick's Road Race again after being a little hesitant about doing it, as I wrote in this post from 2012, St. Pat's here I come. I was concerned about how slow I would be, but Ronald Berger, the doctor who did the blood tests leading to my leukemia diagnosis after the 2003 race, said to me, "You'll probably be the fastest bone marrow transplant patient out there."

I was super slow back then, but there were plenty of people behind me. I ran it the next year but not the past few. My decision to run it this year was not made through careful analysis of the difficulties of the course and my even slower speed. (Notice that the passive format, as in, "Mistakes were made," takes some of the onus off of the speaker, whereas the more proper, active form, would be, "I didn't carefully analyze...")

I signed up because the friend who gave me the idea of doing the 5K Hot Chocolate Run and who went to the race with me said she had signed up for Saint Pat's. I thought it would be fun to do it together and around the same time also had an appointment with Dr. Berger. He is a fast runner, a "real runner," which is not to say that the rest of us are fake runners, but he at another level. The times I've been on my feet when I see him, he asks, "You going to do the race?" When he asked at my last visit, I said I had been able to run about three miles after seeing a chiropractor for toe pain.

He said if I could run three miles, I could do six, even if I walked a little. I asked if he would help me if I needed him at the race. It was a sorta joke.

So I signed up. I increased to five miles with hills a couple of times and did one six-miler and that was that. I was slow but figured I would pick up the pace in a crowd.

Joe was dubious. (I could understand his point of view since he literally picked me off the ground more than once.)

"Are you going to make the doctor's appointment before or after the race?" he asked. I said it was doctor's orders.

I was going to do some short faster runs to increase my speed as I had done in the past but it was super cold on most of the days leading up to the race. And on one day we had a blizzard.

So, on to race day: Excited to be in a crowd of more than 6,000 runners. At the last minute, the friend who got me interested had another commitment and couldn't go. Disappointed but you make instant friends anyway, for example, standing at the truck where volunteers were giving out bananas and water, I told one woman the four-minute version when she asked if I had run the race before: Did it when it went through Holyoke Community College about an extra two miles, got sick, got better, ran again.

Then: Go to the group at the back with the black flag marking slowest. Oddly, stand next to a woman and in sharing our stories, find out that some 30 years ago, her mother died of AML, the same thing I had, before they had all the techniques that saved me. We gave each other a hug.

The race began. I trotted along at my own pace. The first hills were OK. An ambulance crept along beside a group of us, and we joked about wondering if the driver was anticipating a problem. The crowd opened up, and past mile four I was only with a handful of people. My side and knee started to hurt. The "trail vehicle" crept along beside me, creeping me out, an eyeball looking out at me from the passenger seat. My back and my knee started hurting, but I was in some kind of zone (not the good runner's high zone but rather the stubborn runner zone) and it didn't occur to me to hitch a ride to the finish.

Dark humor came into play as my stride got more jagged and I imagined the headline, "Four-time bone marrow transplant recipient succumbs during 10-K road race."

I got a lot of love from the spectators, though. I must have been really bent over at the point when a boy came off the sidewalk and asked if I wanted gatorade. I said no. I also didn't drink any water. I was too focused. I tried to use yoga breathing to get myself to stand up but it didn't work. Around mile five I thought maybe I should walk but it was actually easier to do what at this point was a so-called run. I heard cheering behind me so I figured I wasn't last.

But they must have dropped out because by the time I neared the corner where you turn towards the finish line, it was only me. A police officer offered a ride down the stretch where I used to pick it up.

I think my best finish was about 54 minutes. The race during which I knew something was wrong, it was about an hour. I have blocked out the exact time yesterday but I have to say it was close to two hours.

A kind race official in a yellow jacket extended a strong arm as I rounded the corner. I took it and stood a little taller. We did a little walk/trot towards the finish line. Ben and Joe's girlfriend, Carly, who had run the race, and Joe, who had watched, met us. We moved in unison towards the finish line, like travelers following the yellow brick road, with Carly holding on to one arm and the nice official onto the other. Carly said she would go before me so I wouldn't be last, but I said it was OK because I knew she had already finished in a good time. We did a little hop over the finish line.

Some police officers and an emergency medical person came and looked me over, looking concerned. They asked if I needed anything. I went into the medical tent and sat for a few minutes, eating a banana and drinking water. I held onto Joe's arm and we walked to race headquarters, where I got a chair massage. Then I had a hotdog and we all went home.

I said I was a little embarrassed but they all said it was great that I finished. I'm sure that if I had done the reasonable thing and stopped at four miles, they would have said that was great too, and probably even better. I wasn't absorbing all of what they said but one of them pointed out that the other finishers in the race have likely not been through what I've been through, and also people had dropped out, and also most people don't even try it.

Ironically, I was worried about my toe and heel, but my knee and back ended up hurting. You never know.

Yesterday I went to yoga, walked a little, iced my knee, lay on an ice pack on the couch, and tweeted:

Finishing last in a race: Ibuprofin, ice and wondering if I should congratulate myself for slogging through or feel embarrassed.
Marathoner and fellow cancer survivor Julie Goodale wrote:
Last is always worthy of congrats! You finished. But more importantly, you started. Good for you!
And there's always looking it up to hear other stories. I found them in this story from Women's Running: What happens if you finish last in a race? It obviously always has to be someone.
The writer, who is a runner, wrote:
After many events and hundreds of miles, my only regret is never telling the final finishers how their journeys inspire me. Sure, the fast runners are impressive, but the back-of-the-pack runners have tenacity that’s more important than speedy times. What happens if you come in dead last? You finish! 
The race means a lot to me and so it's hard to close the door on it, but if I do it again I'm going to have to work on getting a little faster. In the meantime, I might do some 5Ks. Not hilly ones.

11 hours ago
Finishing last in a race: Ibuprofin & ice & wondering if I should congratulate myself for slogging through or feel embarra

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Stretching and slogging before Saint Patrick's Race

Doing a plantar fasciitis stretch at Kraft Family Blood Donor Center
Mark Zuckerberg was kind enough to send me a memory from this time of year in 2012 when I wrote that my training for the Saint Patrick's Race was going well – I had run six miles with no problem – but I was worried about the twinges of plantar fasciitis.

Well something is the same: The worry about plantar fasciitis. I think if you counted the number of times over the course of this blog that I mentioned concern about the dreaded heel pain, it might equal or exceed the number of times I expressed worry about leukemia.

At ECP last Wednesday, a doctor and a couple of nurses were all sharing their experiences with and cures for plantar fasciitis. One of the nurses demonstrated how her doctor told her to stretch, and when I got out of the bed I tried it for myself.

A new-to-me resident is overseeing me because I went to a different time slot, 4 p.m. instead of 3. My nurse, Esther, told the doctor that she never saw anyone with graft-vs-host as active as I am. I told her that I still had ripples in my skin and the feeling of a band around my stomach, but the procedure has softened my skin, lessened the swelling in my hands, and important or not depending on your point of view, helped my tennis game.

I'm still planning on doing the race, but the weather has not been conducive to running, and I can't say as I could five years ago that I have run six miles. I did five, so slowly I'm not even sure you could call it running.

Saturday I went to spinning, and on Sunday I ran three miles. I would have gone today but I didn't because of the snowstorm, during which my only activity was going out into the driveway with Maddie. A huge black Lab, about as big as our dog Winnie, bounded into the driveway while her owner shouted from across the street. Maddie seemed to be intimidated because she lay down in a totally submissive position.

I'm not sure when the roads will be cleared enough to get in a good run. I hope I can do it at least once. I would like to not be the very last person to finish. As previously stated, I have gotten incredibly slow.

The other night I dreamt that I was on a dance floor, shimmying up and down. Joe was off to the side watching, and I wanted to show him how I could go all the way down and back up without falling. Up and down. Down and up. It was easy! (When Joe was living here he never wanted me to crouch down on the floor to kiss him goodnight if he was sitting on the floor in front of the TV: He thought I wouldn't be able to get up.)

Interestingly at a tennis clinic the next day, George said I was doing my best forehand slices by bending my knees and leaning over closer to the ground than during a regular swing. So in my dream I was sort of modeling the movement.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

From cancer nightmares to flowers and writing

Inside the Smith College bulb show
Over the past few weeks I have gone to more than my usual number of Survivor Journeys blood cancer support group meetings in Enfield and Agawam. It was because I wrote a profile for Dana-Farber on the physician who started the groups. Like me, Jay Burton had AML and is a Dana-Farber patient. (I started to write "was" a patient, but changed to the present tense because once a patient, always a patient.)

One discussion topic lodged in my subconscious and came out as a bad dream. Some attendees who had had Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma were talking about the stages at which they were diagnosed and the tumors they had. AML is a different disease that is not staged and that does not come with tumors, but tell that to the voice in my subconscious.

I dreamt that someone looked at the lipoma that you can see through my yoga pants and said that it looked dangerous and should be removed. I said that it had been tested and wasn't harmful. But the person looking at it said it had grown too large and I should really have it rechecked because it might be cancer after all. Blech. Well in reality I'm going for a checkup tomorrow before the light treatment so I might mention my dream.

On Sunday I met Joe in West Hartford, approximately half-way between us. We had lunch/brunch at Effie's Place, a family restaurant that was as good as it looked on the internet. He is not crazy about the idea of me running the Saint Patrick's Race.

"Are you going to make the doctor's appointment before or after the race?" he asked.

As we used to say as kids, "So funny I forgot to laugh."

I don't buy a lot of new equipment, but I decided I should get a new pair of running shoes. (Brooks Cascadia, really a trail-running shoe but a good fit for my orthotics.)

It was that super cold day but when I got home in the late afternoon I got it in my head that I would try them out by running up Cold Hill. I wasn't that cold so I kept going and got committed to finishing a loop of a little less than four miles. By that time it was getting dark and I felt the cold.

With Literacy Project students Chris and Alyea
The next day, and into today, I didn't feel so great. Not too bad but not great...that feeling that you're coming down with something. So I took today off. My exercise consisted of going from The Literacy Project to the Smith College Bulb Show with our class. I had a memory that involved two of my children wanting to be in a photo with my parents and the other child not wanting to. We took a solo photo of the recalcitrant child, and later my mother did her own version of photoshopping: cutting out the photo of the solo child and putting it next to the group.

I missed my mother.

She would have appreciated the fragrances and the colors and the arrangements.

I told Zoe (the teacher) that I like to think she is around.

When we got back, everyone wrote impressions of the day.

I was helping one man whose mind goes faster than his writing. He jotted down some descriptive words not connected by verbs. He told me he gets confused.

"Stop and tell me what you're trying to say, like you're telling your wife," I said. "Keep your sentences short."

And so that's what he did. He seemed happy about it.

A little. Newspaper training. Goes a long. Way.