FishDreamer scribbles: It ain't over yet.

Thursday, 4 March 2004

A Shot Across the Bow

All kinds of interesting things are going on these days. Work is busy, in a good way. Home is relaxed, for a while. Mr D is on the back side of getting ill (he's recovering). I am on the front side, but I think I can head it off. I haven't lost any weight on the Self Challenge, but I feel different and my eating habits have improved. In the online world, Carrie has some news, as does Erin. I have no news of my own (a good thing, really). I'm going snow shoeing with friends on Saturday, while Mr D and my brother work again on the Orange Behemoth.

Good thing I made my own plans for the weekend, with my brother coming back up to finish the job. No disappointment and bad pizza this week.

I've been thinking about the whole weight loss thing (probably because I'm reading about it more frequently right now). In ticking off all the things I accomplished back in 2000, I realized that there is a possibility that my frequent over-committing and constant shorting of my own needs probably contributed to my getting cancer. It may not have been physically related (as in cause and effect), but if anyone needed a swift spiritual kick between the eyes to slow down and take care of herself, that was me that year.

I met Mr D in the spring of 1998. He moved in six weeks later, and by Christmas we were engaged. In the summer of 1999, I attended an information session on a local university's technical writing and editing program. I applied, I got in, I started classes in September of 1999. I was still working full time, with classes two nights a week from six to nine-thirty. I didn't tell anyone at work that I was in school, because then they'd know I was planning to leave. Homework was the only thing I did on Sundays, ever.

The following spring, I got approached with a book deal - revising and updating two books. Being me, I jumped at it. Around the same time, I started looking for a new job, where I could use all my new knowledge and technical skills from my classes. I found it, and I started my new job on the last day of classes in June. Mr D started a new job at a DotCom, where he slowly built up his hours until he was working 80 or more hours a week. Somewhere in here, my uncle died. In August, Mr D and I got married. In September, we bought a house. Moved in during October, and started clearing out the condo so we could sell it. In November, I realized I really kind of wanted to start working out regularly, so I half-heartedly started running once or twice a week. I didn't really have any winter running clothes, so it was difficult. Mr D was working every single day. The only day he had off in the month of November was Thanksgiving. His parents came out for Christmas, as did Husband (my friend and Bride's Man).

I was particularly crabby and unhappy that Christmas, and I was smoking a lot and not exercising much, and eating very poorly. I remember Christmas dinner, because there were five people in my galley-style kitchen getting everything ready at the last minute (I cooked the food, mostly) so I sat down with my glass of champagne and watched. And then, two days after Christmas when I got up to go back to work, I collapsed on the floor in pain from a tumor in my ovary twisting, pulling on my fallopian tube.

Do you think it was a sign? That maybe I was overdoing it and stinting myself of health and down time and happiness on such a chronic basis that my body rebelled? Maybe it was the Gods slapping me upside the head, to remind me that life is meant to be lived, not ignored. It certainly slowed me down for a while. I remember being cranky about how hard it was to do anything afterwards, and how starting in March afterwards I believed that I was recovered, and I kept starting up my fitness program (mostly running) and then getting sick. I'd gone running the day before I went to the hospital. Even when I was delirious on my hands and knees, rocking back and forth and moaning in pain (I don't remember this), I kept telling Mr D I was fine and it would stop in a minute (I do remember that part). He insisted on taking me to the emergency room, and eventually the pain wore me down to where I gave in.

It was horrible. Excruciating. I am usually fairly able to deal with pain, although persistent pain wears me out and sudden sharp pain turns me back into a three year old. This was the very worst pain I've ever experienced, and we know it was bad because I scared everyone in that waiting room. And I yelled at the nurses who gave me dilaudid, because it just made my head feel tight. And when they finally gave me morphine, I passed out. I don't remember much after that. But normally I think about the effect my behaviour might have on those around me, and that day I didn't care at all.

But that was the first time ever I'd been seriously knocked on my ass. I'd never been to the hospital before, except to visit people. The last time that I was so sick I was unable to take care of myself was when I was five and had pneumonia. I didn't know how to handle it, and I kept declaring it was over and I was better, even when it was fairly clear that wasn't true. I believed that my determination to get back to normal, and to lose the weight I'd put on since I met Mr D was stronger than my body was weak, but I was wrong.

I went back to work within a week of the surgery, because I couldn't stand sitting around the house all day. I look back on this now and think, ye gods, I should have been reading and resting and working through my feelings about it. I should have taken stock of my life, thought about what got me to that point, and figured out how to avoid ever going back there again. Trim the useless and the negative and the unnecessary from my life, and figure out what really mattered to me. What I wouldn't give now for a month or two to work on my self, my emotions and my problems and my goals and aspirations.

No, I went back to work. I could only work two or three hours a day that first week, but I was back full time before February. I look at that now and see it for the avoidance behaviour it was. If I could work, I wouldn't have to think about the fact that I had cancer.

Even now I don't usually say it that way. It was a tumor, I got sick, blah blah. I haven't ever really faced it, despite all the CT scans that followed, and the blood-work and everything. Despite the fact that my body will never ever be the same as it was before, I still haven't faced this spectre down. Some of the back and neck problems I have now are because of the scar tissue inside, which is pulling on and (weirdly) strengthening the muscles in my soaz on that side (the area just inside the hip).

I have to actually look at it. I have to say it. I had cancer. I am a cancer survivor, I have scars and I'm still under observation, for another almost two years. I'll get my last bloodwork done in January, 2006, and then they'll call me in permanent remission. But having had one form of cancer makes a body more vulnerable to having another form. That, combined with my family history of breast cancer, is why I'm going in less than a month to have a baseline mammogram. (And I'm nearly three years late with that, as well. I should have gone when I turned 35.)

I am still working on my fitness, I am more active now than I have been since the spring of 1998, when I was training for my first Danskin triathlon. I weigh less than I did when I started that. But I have to realize that I will never have a truly flat belly, because of the scar tissue. I will always have the physical reminder of what happened. I don't think that my ability as an athlete has been ruined, not at all. But the back pain, the neck pain, the scar tissue, the twisting, the hip issues, all of it is in some part due to the cancer I had.

I did the Danskin in the summer of 2001, to prove to myself that I still could. I couldn't really train for it, I was pretty heavy that summer, and my time was twenty minutes slower than my time from two years earlier. But I did it. I walked most of the run, and I cheered on every other woman out there with me. I also did the Seattle Half Marathon in November 2001. Again, I walked most of the way. I did it with a friend, and I let her set the pace. It hurt, but I really enjoyed it. I went 13.1 miles on my own two feet, in the rain, at the very end of November, and I loved it. I've been trying to do it again every year since, but I've had back and neck and foot issues every fall. I am working on that, and I swear I'm going to do that race again. And I'm going to run the whole way (except water stops), and I'm going to finish in under three hours. (Given that my barely-trained mostly walking time was 3:19, and I knocked four minutes off my 5K time the year after that, I think this is doable.)

I want fitness and healthy eating to be a permanent daily part of my life. I don't ever want to get so sick again that it takes me more than a year to recover, and more than three years to admit how sick I truly was. And if you take nothing but this away from my stories and my site, I will be very happy. If you feel sharp, painful twinges in your pelvic region, particularly down by the hip joints (where your legs meet the rest of you), don't think it's just gas and it will go away. Get it checked. Ovarian cancer is a silent killer, but in most forms it's very easily treated if it's caught early enough. Don't let your life get sidetracked for years like I did.

If you want more information, I recommend starting at either Gilda's Club or the Marsha Rivkin Center for Ovarian Cancer Research. They put on the Swedish SummeRun as a fundraiser, which I do every year. Both sites have information on symptoms and what to look for, which I think every woman needs to know. Kind of like doing your monthly breast self-exam. You do that, right?

Postscript: After I posted this, I sat in my chair and cried. I'm still sorting through the feelings that writing all of this brought up, and I'm thinking that maybe, just maybe, the scared part of me that hasn't had the courage to face this is finally starting to heal, too. I hope so.

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