Friday, February 25, 2011

My Leap of Faith

For the last six years, I have walked or run the Ukrops Monument Avenue 10K. Before I had my surgery, I felt that streak would have to come to an end this year.

Yesterday, exactly one month after the surgery to remove the neuroma and its associated nerve from my left foot, I made a leap of faith and signed up for the 10K. Probably an even bigger leap of faith was signing up for a time slot to finish in 1:15 or less, meaning I am going to have to run a good portion of it. I have not run in a good long while, and have not even tried it since the surgery.

One month in, my foot still has some pain, and considerable stiffness and numbness. I think that will fade as time goes on, although I wonder if the numbness will always be there. After all, I am missing one of the nerves that branched off to my toes. Sometimes, I feel like I have a big “donut hole” in my forefoot. Other times, it feels kind of like I am stepping on something. I think in time, my brain will compensate and learn to ignore it. It will just become the new normal.

So, now I know I must try running soon. There are five weeks to go until the race. I am going to start walking three miles at a time this week, or perhaps even four. If that is feeling okay, I will start mixing in run intervals, even if I only start with a 30 second interval. If that is going well, I’ll up it by 30 seconds every week.

I will be wearing my sister’s picture for this race, and also a photo of my good, late friend Judy. I still can’t believe Judy is gone, and I cannot believe that my sister’s breast cancer just will not respond to anything so far. So, all I can do right now is try my best to honor them. That is far more important to me than whatever time I can make in this race. I just want to finish, prove I can do it, and honor my sister and friend. Oh, and you know that I will wearing my purple Team in Training shirt – bank on that!

Even though TNT has not yet started for me, I will use this event as a springboard into the new season, which starts up in late May, I think.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Thank You, TNT Team Princess!

To all of the women (and just perhaps a few males) of Team in Training Richmond, all of Virginia, and Nationwide running and walking in the Disney Princess Half Marathon this weekend, I wanted to say thank you so much for all you have done to train and raise money for this event. As a lymphoma survivor, I know first hand what a huge difference that effective cancer treatments have meant in my life. You are giving others the same chance of survival that I had, and for that, I and all cancer survivors are grateful.

You’ve worked so hard – now go have a great weekend and a great race in Orlando. It sounds like a really fun race, lots of pink, crowns, and tiaras, I would guess. I know that if I were running it with you, I would probably have set up some goofy fundraising challenges - like running in a pink skirt for the right level of donations, or maybe running wearing a pink or purple tiara, something like that. So, have fun!

In gratitude for your efforts, I have written this rondeau as a token of my esteem for you. GO TEAM!

You race for cures in crowns of pink
And regal shirts - purple, I think!
For thirteen miles, a real princess
(I’d not fit in, I must confess,
Although I say that with a wink)

From this challenge, you did not shrink -
To help save lives poised on the brink.
You are a champion, and no less
You race for cures!

Let’s find the cures, unearth that link!
In cancer’s shield, we’ll find a chink !
So many now are in distress
But your hard work means more progress
Putting patients back in the pink!
You race for cures!

Art Ritter
February 22, 2011

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Ten Years for Emma!

I’ve met a lot of great people in my six years being involved in Team in Training. Most were fellow participants or coaches, but some were patient honorees. One of the latter is Emma, who I met my very first season with TNT in 2005 when I was training for the Midnight Sun Marathon in Alaska. At that time, each event had their own patient honoree – now all the patient honorees are for the whole team each season. Emma was about six at the time, and this endearing little girl was the patient honoree for the group who was training for the San Diego Marathon. So while I didn’t see her much, I did hear her story, and I've seen her many times since then.

When Emma was just 10 weeks only, she was diagnosed with infant acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and the odds were long against her survival. She and her family suffered terribly, but Emma survived. The harsh chemotherapy taken as an infant might well cause her future unknown medical problems, though. I wrote last year in more detail about Emma, so I am not going to repeat all that – you can read it here if you wish.

This past Monday – Valentine’s Day – Emma reached 10 years in remission. This is great news, amazing news. I’ve gotten a ton of terrible news on the cancer front lately from friends and family, and being reminded about Emma’s survival to the ten year remission milestone – something that looked impossible when she was a tiny 10 week old baby – buoyed my spirits. So Emma, keep on going! Here is my favorite photo of her, finishing her first triathlon a couple of years ago, arms raised in triumph like the strong survivor that she is.

Incidentally, Emma’s mom Holly, who I don’t see nearly often enough but who was on my first team as a marathoner and whom I count as a friend, is back doing Team in Training again. She will be riding 100 miles on her bike in the Fletcher Flyer, and when she completes that race, she will own the coveted Team in Training Triple Crown, having done at least one marathon, century ride, and triathlon. And this summer, she will complete her very first ironman triathlon! Go Holly! You are amazing!

If you are touched by Emma’s story of near death and life, and would like to contribute to Holly’s efforts to honor the 10 year survivorship of her daughter, you could consider going here and making a donation to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Reaching a Milestone – Two, Actually!

So two days ago, I reached a milestone by taking a decent length walk for the first time since my foot surgery. I walked a total of over two miles, so technically, I guess that would be two milestones. I walked along the James River to see the great blue heron nests, and it felt good to be active. I walked along at a pretty decent clip, maybe 14-15 minutes per mile while I was actually moving.

My foot has been fairly sore since, especially yesterday, so I probably overdid it Tuesday. I was also wearing my really old and beaten up shoes, so I don’t think I had good foot and arch support. Today, I walked over a mile to have lunch by the river on a beautiful day, but I wore my less old shoes.

I think I am a good week or so from being able to walk four miles or more without some trouble, and maybe three weeks away from trying a little running. But who knows, it could come sooner. For now, I am happy to not be sofa and chair bound every minute of the day. It really makes one appreciate their mobility.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Wait, Weights, and Weight!

My wait to take off the wrap on my left foot, and leave it off, is over. It feels weird not to have a tight bandage around my foot, and there is some pain and numbness that the bandage kind of masked, but overall it feels great! Tomorrow, it will be really nice to not have to wrap my foot after I take a shower.

Yesterday, I decided that I’d had enough of being a couch potato. So I hobbled over to the gym and did some weights. I spent about a half hour or so doing a moderate workout, and it felt really good. I threw in some leg work, but nothing on my feet, and also some crunches, all badly needed. I am a little sore today.

Speaking of weight, I also weighed myself while I was at our community gym. Ouch! Although I have been sedentary, my jaws have not been. I’ve gained a good 3-4 pounds over the last three or four weeks. Time to do something about that.

Oh, Happy Valentine’s Day! Chocolates, anyone?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Thinking of the Monument Avenue 10K

The last week or so, as my limp becomes less pronounced, I’ve been thinking more and more of the Monument Avenue 10K and whether I could run or walk it this year. I have been in this race for the last six year, including it in this blog in 2008 for Team Tommy, 2009 also with Team Tommy, and 2010. I hate to break my streak, and keep thinking I can do this race somehow. But then yesterday, my foot was hurting quite more than usual (after I made a lot of trips on our stairs carrying stuff we donated to a charity for settling in refugees) and I had to sit for most of the afternoon and evening.

The race is one of the biggest in the USA. I think I am safe waiting until early March and then signing up. If I can do it, I will wear a photo of my friend Judy, who died last month ago from myeloma, and also one of my sister Ann, who’s awful battle with stage 4 breast cancer is getting worse.

Running or walking in this race, depending on how well my foot heals and how much cardio fitness I can get back by April 2, would be a nice milestone from recovering from the surgery and also a good tune-up for Team in Training, which will start up in May. Plus, I would love to do something special to honor Judy and Ann.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Upstairs, Downstairs

18 days after surgery now, and my foot is doing OK. The incision has fully healed. All of my toes but one no longer look like Vienna sausages. I need to keep my left foot wrapped for three more days so that the ligament that the surgeon cut can finish healing, then I can try full pressure on my foot without a bandage. I have gotten in the habit of taking the bandage off each night and to just be careful to walk on my heel.

With my foot wrapped, stuffed in a big sock, and then stuffed in a Croc, I can walk pretty easily but with a limp. There are still a lot of quite painful and sore areas, and that will continue for some weeks.

I’ve been able to go up and down stairs for over a week now. At first, I would use only my right leg to pull myself up, one stair at a time. Right foot up, left foot on the same stair, repeat as necessary. But as of about a week ago, I could go up normally, just slowly. When my bandage is off, I have to go back to the “double step” method, making sure to only put pressure on my left heel.

At work, I mostly taken the elevator this past week, my first back. But Tuesday, I’d met a friend for lunch, and on coming back, the whole block where my building is was cordoned off with police tape. I took the long way around to get to the front door, walking an extra three blocks, to see if I could get in that way. But I was told that the entrance was off limits because of a suspicious package half a block away. However, the building was not evacuated, so I felt compelled to go back to work. Yeah, I know – dumb!

So I went in through the back door, which comes into a kind of basement, two floors down. Then I thought “What if there is a bomb? Do I want to get slow-roasted in an elevator?” The answer was an emphatic no! So I walked up, eight floors, slowly and painfully. I made it, but it was like climbing a mountain. It was sobering. Before the surgery, I always take the stairs, and it is a piece of cake. Some day soon, it will be again. For now, I’ll be grateful that I am moving around a bit.

Yesterday, I did take the stairs one time – six floors – and it was nowhere near as hard or painful. And for the last several days at work, I started walking up and down when I had to go one or two floors instead of taking the elevator. It feels good to be able to go up and down stairs again!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Evil Beast

Cancer is an evil, evil beast! I started my 2011 honoree list just over five weeks ago, and already, two of my special 2011 honorees have died. The first was my good friend Judy, who passed away a month and a day ago just weeks after being diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Then, I learned earlier this week that another person on my list, Lanie, passed away January 26 at only age forty from glioblastoma multiforma, an incurable brain cancer. She leaves behind a grieving family: her husband and two young children. It is just not right!

Then yesterday, I visited my friend – and an amazing inspiration – Ed, who just got back from a couple of weeks down at Duke. He was there getting 16 lymph nodes in his leg removed, and receiving a simply wonderful procedure known as isolated limb perfusion. Essentially, the leg is tied off at the groin with a tourniquet, and heated chemo is pumped into the leg and circulated through a machine to keep oxygen going into that leg’s blood. He is still bed bound, and can get up and walk very slowly and painfully with a walker. This is his fourth bout with melanoma, and the third time in just over a year that he has had to have a major and painful procedure for his melanoma, including losing about one-fourth of his left foot just over a year ago. And that doesn’t count his two previous battles with cancer, the first of which was leukemia at age 19 that nearly killed him. It all makes my recent foot surgery seem as troubling and significant as a mosquito bite. His left leg is all red and still looks nearly twice the size of his right leg – and that is after the swelling had decreased a lot.

Ed and I talked about our Team in Training teammate, Paul, who is getting very rigorous and nasty chemotherapy for chronic lymphocytic leukemia right now, three out of every four weeks. And realistically, the best that awful treatment will do is beat it back for a while. That is why we have to keep looking for more cures, and raising the money needed to do so!

Finally, I talked to my sister earlier today as she was headed out the door to see her doctor about fluid in her chest cavity, a potentially very serious side-effect from either her stage 4 breast cancer, or from having been immobile and bed-bound from her illness for so long recently.

Yeah, no Christmas card for cancer - that evil, evil beast - from me this year!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

No longer Raising Cane

I’ve been walking around the house for several days without the cane, and decided to try it outside when we went to Best Buy. No problems, although even an hour or so is really tiring to be on my feet. Tomorrow marks two weeks since surgery, and although I am walking slowly and with a limp, I am getting around. Tomorrow also marks my return to work, and I think it will be a really long day. A really, really, really long day. I’ve loved having two weeks to sit around with my foot up, reading and watching movies, although I am tired of being a couch potato.

As we drove home from the store on this beautiful winter day with temperatures in the high 40’s, I turned green with envy watching runners and walkers moving effortlessly along. Those days are still far in the future for me. But I will get there. I’d love to think that I can start walking normally in four more weeks, say by early March. Time will tell.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Foot Loose and Fancy Free

I unwrapped my foot this morning and got a shower, no plastic wrap included, and got to wash my foot for the first time in 11 days. That sure felt great! I am not supposed to put a lot of weight on it unless it is bandaged, because the bandage helps keep the foot tight while the severed ligament heals. So I was standing gingerly in the shower with my full foot in contact with the shower floor, and if felt like I were stepping on something, I guess because of the swelling.

As you can see, it is healing. Some of the discoloration is due to swelling and bruising, and some is due to the iodine that they painted my foot with. I am leaving the wrap off for a little while and using crutches during that time. It feels good to feel the air on my foot. But soon enough, a new wrap goes back on until tomorrow’s shower, and I will no longer be foot loose and fancy free.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

No Longer Being Kept in Stitches

I got the stitches out on my incision today on my left foot. After looking at the incision again, it is a little shorter than I thought, probably 1.25 to 1.5 inches. At least some of the pain is less with the stitches out, as I think they were irritating to some degree. There are still plenty of areas that hurt. As the doctor said, for some time yet, the pain from the surgery will be a lot more than that of the neuroma. In about 6 more weeks, they should roughly be about the same, and then hopefully, the pain will gradually decrease and be less than what I had before. I would guess that point – about six more weeks – is when I might try running again.

In the last week, I have graduated from needing two crutches to using one crutch, to using a cane. For now, I will use the cane, although if I am careful, I can move around without it some if I take it slow (and don’t try to raise cane!). I have medical clearance to go back to work Monday, but I have to honestly say I have not missed working for the last two weeks, and love being able to do a little more reading. All things must end, however.

Tomorrow, I will remove the bandage from my foot and get a shower without plastic bags on! Now, I am really looking forward to that! Afterwards, I do need to put on a new bandage, because that will help the foot from “splaying” laterally. He had to cut through a ligament to get to the offending nerve, and the bandage needs to stay on for that reason for another 11 days. After that point, I plan on at least using the pool and getting an aerobic workout there without involving my feet.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Couch Potato

Wow, here I am eight days post foot surgery, and I have morphed into this total couch potato. No exercise at all! I sit on the couch, read, and listen to music, and sometimes watch a movie on TV. Now and then I will get tired and sleep for a bit. I guess any kind of trauma must send signals to one’s body that it needs to rest and heal, because it is not like I am tired from too much work or exertion.

The only thing I don’t have is a big bag of chips on the couch with me, and a couple of beers. Although, you know, now that I think of it…

It makes me realize how much I like being active, and how much I miss physical activity, and how important that is to one’s health. I know that some weeks in the future, my foot will feel better enough to start walking again. Eventually, the pain will be even less and I will take my first tentative running steps in a long while.

But for now, couch potato! Chips, anyone?