Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

Today is the last day of 2010. I have to say that this has been a pretty awesome year. I kept my job in the face of massive layoffs, 'ran' six miles every day for a month, learned about sustainable agriculture by working at a CSA, ran my first half-marathon, came in third in a national art competition, donated 10 inches of my hair to other women affected by cancer, designed and built an award-winning gingerbread house, and best of all, I finally feel I have started living life beyond cancer.

For the past four December 31st's, I have made the same resolution: I want to be alive next December 31st. As I sat on a plane this afternoon, flying home from a quick warm-weather getaway, I looked down at the black and white landscape- snow and trees seen from the aerial perspective, I remembered my resolution.

And I decided, this year, I think I will make a different one. Surviving another year doesn't seem like a resolution I need to make. I feel like this is a monumental shift in thinking for me, and a pretty significant accomplishment. Resolving to do something other than just be alive in 365 days means I finally feel secure in the knowledge that my life is not measurable in days, weeks, or even months. I finally feel confident in planning the life ahead of me in years.

When I was twenty-one, I was told that there was a 50/50 chance I would live to see June 2011. Five years. 50%. At the time I was told this, I remember articulating that the statistic made me feel as though I was being robbed of my invincibility. But looking back, I think it wasn't my invincibility that was lost. I never thought I was invincible. What was taken from me when I was provided with that statistic was my future. I stopped planning in decades, or even years. I started living on a much shorter timetable. Looking back, that shift makes me really sad. At twenty-one, I doubted whether I would live to graduate, find a job, or find someone who could love me, cancer and all.

But I have accomplished all of those things. And so much more. Each accomplishment brought me closer to the belief that I could live my life. A full, long life. So this year, I will not resolve to live until next December 31st, because it should be a given. I will make a different resolution, if you want to call it that at all. I prefer to think of a resolution as a promise, because promises are meant to be kept. So I promise to keep writing, running, and not just surviving, but living, for the next 365 days...And beyond.

Happy New Year!

Hope, Love, Run,
Marathon Girl

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Does This Life Make Me Look Stressed?

I was dying to run outside today. Over the last five days, I only worked out once. This is a significant deviation from my normal 5-day a week routine, but I have been under a lot of stress recently, and I reached my breaking point on Tuesday. I didn't workout that night, or the next, or the one after that, or after that. I spent the time I would have been exercising catching up on all the work I was unsuccessfully trying to keep up with.

I don't want to make a pattern out of not working out, but I decided this morning I didn't want to go to the gym, not because of time, but because there were no classes I wanted to take. So I considered running in the cold. said the current temperature was 15 degrees. Brrrr. Luckily, it warmed up to 35 by this afternoon, so I decided I would suck it up and go for a run.

I am SO glad I did. In just the few weeks since I switched to the treadmill, I forgot why running outside is so much better. The calorie burn might be similar, but for me, the added benefits of running outside make it much more productive. Doing a trail run like I did today gives me a clarity and peace I don't get when I'm running indoors. On the treadmill, my mind doesn't wander the same way, and the end result of today's run was a lot of time reflecting on the stress I've been feeling lately.

This week, I found myself literally crying to various people in my life that I am doing everything I can, giving everything I've got, and still feel that I'm being told it's not enough. It was this feeling of failing despite giving every piece of myself that led me to reach a breaking point this week.

I spent a decent amount of time trying to figure out how I could find balance and do it all. The solution this week was that I gave up my workout routine, something I value and consider to be one of the most important things I do for myself. Running today led me to the conclusion that perhaps I shouldn't be looking for a way to do it all. Maybe the answer is the opposite of what felt natural to me. Don't try to devote more time to what's stressing you out when you're feeling overwhelmed. Do less.

Not so long ago, I used to be an expert at avoiding stress. It was actually something I consciously kept out of my life during and after cancer treatment. Stress is bad. There is a lot of research to back this up.

If I go a little further back in my life, however, I had a very different perspective. In college, I ate stress for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I worked, went to school full time, substitute taught, and still made time to do various projects that were unrelated to my school work. I was forced to give up the stress-around-the-clock lifestyle when I got sick. In a way, that was a gift. I was so tired, that I had to prioritize what I needed to do. The things at the bottom of the list never got done. Because of this, I also learned to say no the year I was doing chemo. Before, I said yes to anything I was asked to do, if I didn't have time, I managed to make it. On chemo, that wasn't an option.

What I realized as I ran today was that I have returned to some of my old ways. I am not living on stress like I used to. I don't want to return to that, but I think I have let my perfectionist ways to suck me into a stressed out state. I find myself agreeing to do things I could easily say no to, knowing I don't have time to accomplish them without giving up something that really matters to me. I've also gone above and beyond, not because I would get something extra out of it, but because someone else would benefit.

I think it's great to give everything you've got, I wholeheartedly believe in always doing your best. But when you reach a point where it comes at such a high cost, leads to a breakdown, compromises things I deeply value, it's too much.

If I push myself like I have been, I will without a doubt burnout. I hope that the people who are asking so much of me will understand that when I say no, it is because I am already giving as much of myself as I healthfully can, and and hopefully not more than I should.

Hope, love, run,
Marathon Girl

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Choose Happiness

I found this on the Earndit twitter feed and thought it was a quick, profound read. Take a minute and check it out. Here are the closing thoughts: Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.

Monday, December 6, 2010

New Season, New Routine

Winter is officially here! This weekend, the weather took a turn from chilly and officially arrived at freezing this morning, with some flurries just to make sure I knew it wasn't fall anymore.

I love when the seasons change; I feel lucky to be alive to witness all milestones, and the changing of the seasons is no exception. But I have mixed feelings about the onset of winter because it marks the start of about three months when the weather is not conducive to running outside. It's not all bad though. Winter is an opportunity to try out new indoor fitness options, and revisit my old favorites. So, instead of running all the time, I've been transitioning to my winter routine, which includes a smorgasbord of winter-friendly activities including pilates, kickboxing, cardiodance, strength training, swimming, spinning, and whatever other classes I can piece around my schedule.

Despite all the variety, I do practice what I consider to be 'maintenance runs' a few times a week through the winter. These are short (2-5 miles), usually involve speed work, and are done on the treadmill. I'll be the first to admit that I don't do enough speedwork during my outside runs because I like to just go and not think about keeping various paces throughout my runs. The treadmill, on the other hand, seems monotonous and dull when I compare it to outdoor runs that include trails, rivers, roads, and hills.

When I'm doing the hamster-on-a-wheel thing, contained in the gym, looking out longingly through the floor-to-ceiling windows at the once bright, now frozen landscape, speedwork is suddenly a lot more appealing. I did a 5K's worth of speedwork this morning, circuit trained my upper body, and I am pleasantly sore now.

It's not fun to get up the extra half hour earlier and go to the gym rather than rolling out of bed and putting on sneakers to go for a pre-work run, or easier yet, sleeping in, but when it's 20 degrees out, the thirty minutes of lost sleep is worth it.

On the days I want to turn off the alarm and sleep through my workout time, I always remind myself that I have never, ever regretted doing a workout. Honestly, there are days I have chosen to sleep, and sometimes I don't regret making that choice, but sometimes I do. Going to the gym? Doing the run? I have never wished I skipped it, so my advice for staying motivated through these dark, cold, and short days is to remember how you feel when you finish that workout, knowing what you've accomplished while your friends, neighbors, and coworkers are still rubbing the sleep from their eyes. Think about that as you set your alarm clock tonight, and as you wake up tomorrow morning.

Hope, Love, Run
Marathon Girl

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Run like a Turkey

I'm a few days late with this, but I've spent the Thanksgiving holiday weekend very busy doing all kinds of fun things, like eating, shopping, seeing friends who were in town for the holiday, and of course, doing a little running.

All of the above are reasons I love Thanksgiving. Growing up, Thanksgiving mornings involved Pillsbury cinnamon rolls and the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, followed by a trip to a relative's for dinner. But four years ago I started a new tradition.

I'm lucky enough to live within driving distance of a Turkey Trot. If you haven't had the pleasure of participating in a Trot, let me fill you in on what you're missing. You wake up early after a late night visiting with friends who are in town, then drive to Flemington, New Jersey and line up on Main Street, surrounded by 4,000 others ready to run through the town. Did I mention that it's about 30 degrees out? When the race starts, you begin winding through the roads of Flemington. People line the streets, and the locals stand in their yards cheering you on. As you run, you're bound to see friends, neighbors, and strangers dressed in costumes- turkeys, bananas, pilgrims, indians, even a replica of the mayflower created from a refrigerator box, and my personal favorite this year, Buddy the Elf. Maybe this doesn't sound like a good time to you, but there's something magical about running through a small town with 4,000 people on Thanksgiving day.

The Turkey Trot has a special place in my heart because the 2007 edition was the first race I ever ran. It came just two months after I finished chemo. completing the race was the first physical challenge-type goal I ever set. I think it's cliche to say I have a lot to be thankful for, but I do, and running the Trot has become a way for me to demonstrate my gratitude and commemorate another year of health. It feels like big party. We're all celebrating our thankfulness by running the race. Then we go home and eat lots of delicious food.

I'd like to say thanks to all the people who made my Thanksgiving special by running the Trot with me. I hope it was as fun and meaningful for you as it was for me!

Hope, Love, Run,
Marathon Girl

PS- One more thing to be thankful for...An article was published in this week's Democrat about the Lilly competition and another little art project I did recently. The link is on the Press page, or you can read it directly from here

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Hair: Part 3, The Final Cut

Me and my hair :)

Below is the letter I included with my ponytail. For the whole nine (inches) see parts 1 and 2 below.

Dear Pantene Beautiful Lengths,

I felt compelled to include a letter with my donation. I hope you will take a few moments to read it. I understand that you get ponytails every day, and mine is probably very similar to dozens you have received, but my hair comes with a story. My name is Juliana, I am twenty-five years old, and I am a cancer survivor.

When I was diagnosed with cancer just after the close of my junior year of college, I had long, beautiful hair. As my life unraveled in the coming months, as I endured surgery after surgery, my hair remained. But a few months later, as I began my senior year of college, I also embarked on a twelve-month chemotherapy regiment. Over the course of the next four months, my long, thick hair began to thin. I cut it short, then shorter still, not because I wanted to, but because I couldn't bear to part with what was left of it. I didn't realize until I began to lose it, how much my hair made me look like myself. Losing my hair was one of the most disturbing experiences I have ever endured. My heart aches thinking about it. It hurt even more because I had no control over it.

In September 2007, when I finished treatment, I swore I would not cut my hair short ever again. I wanted it to be long. But it grew at a painfully slow rate. I had aspirations of one day donating it, but I didn’t think I could ever bring myself to cut it short again. That was more than three years ago. I decided yesterday that I wanted to cut my hair. Unlike the haircuts I had four years ago, this one was my choice.

So while the hair in this envelope may look like all the other ponytails you get, I can assure you it is different. The hair you hold is nine inches and three years of post-treatment cancer survivorship. This hair came with me to my college graduation, my first job, countless doctors’ appointments. It saw me through the years spent putting my life back together after cancer. It wrote a memoir, won the Lilly Oncology On Canvas Art completion, and most recently, trained for and ran its first half marathon. So please understand that this hair was a part of me. It is special. I ask that you take good care of it, and I trust that you’ll see that it is used it to give hope to another woman with cancer.

Thank you for allowing me to share my story and pass along hope to another woman.

Hair: Part 2

I hated having short hair. If losing it wasn't traumatic enough, the seemingly infinite amount of time it took to stop looking like a child took to my head with a pair of scissors added insult to injury. However, at some point, I decided I wanted to grow my hair out for the purpose of donating it to a charity that would use it to make a wig for another cancer survivor. While I had visions of giving a piece of myself away to help someone else, I had a selfish fear of letting go of it. My hair has always grown slowly, but after chemo, it grew even slower, or at least it seemed to. This may have been to my benefit though, because for every trim I went for ("Please, just take off the split ends, nothing more than you absolutely have to!") I became a little more detached from my hair and the anxiety about cutting it. Back in August, I almost did it, but at the last minute I opted for one of my usual bare-minimum trims.

Well, this week I finally did it. I didn't tell a soul, with the exception of my boyfriend, who has not yet seen the results. I did it after work. I drove to my usual salon- The Cutting Edge in Flemington- and there they prepared to cut my hair, which I had washed and put no products in, just like the donation requirements ask. While I only needed eight inches for my donation to be usable, I found myself asking that Jody, my stylist, make sure there was enough. I encouraged her to be sure it was more than eight, just to be safe. Two quick clips later, my pigtails were no longer attached to my head, and instead sat on the counter in front of me.

It was a little scary. But this time, the big haircut was my choice, not something I felt cancer was forcing me to do. I was in control, and my hair looked good! After a shampoo, cleaning up the blunt ends, and a blow out, I went on my way, my hair wrapped in a plastic bag, tucked in my purse. I plan on including a letter with my donation. Three years and about nine inches of myself are being shipped to Texas, and I think the story is worth including. When I write the letter, I'll post that, too.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hair, Part I

I wrote the following narrative as part of the 150-page document I have references previously through the post about winning Lilly Oncology on Canvas. This is one of the pieces I included in the artwork, because the loss of my hair was one of the aspects of the cancer experience that profoundly affected me. As I reread what I wrote, it is almost as though it was written by another person all together, because I feel I am such a different person now. What you're about to read is raw, and personal. I am hesitant to even put it on here. But without including it, I think the two additional entries I plan to post about my hair will lack the depth that this additional perspective will bring.


Before I got sick, my hair was something to envy. I had thick, pliable, cooperative hair that could be dried straight or neatly French braided. When curled it held its shape; it could be knotted into a bun when wet, and let down to reveal beautiful waves when it dried. I loved my hair. The color was a wheaty brown that reflected light, and framed my face, accentuating the angles of my cheekbones and chin. It had subtle red undertones all year and blonde highlights that appeared in the summer with minimal sun exposure and no effort on my part.

When I began chemotherapy, I feared my hair would fall out, yet I was strangely fascinated with how I might look without any hair. My post-surgery treatment regimen of Interferon 2b-Alpha, a synthetic protein peptide that was considered a biological chemotherapy, was designed to mimic a protein already present in the body. Because of its non-traditional nature, I was told that my hair would not fall out. It might grow thin, but I certainly would not lose it all.

However, throughout the fall my hair continued to steadily let go of my scalp and between September, when I started treatment, and Christmas, my ponytail had shrunken considerably and the flesh on my temples and the place on my scalp where my ponytail usually rested were much more visible. I cut my hair to shoulder length, mostly because I was tired of sitting on the edge of my bed each morning, running my fingers through my hair, and seeing the strands on my palms when I pulled my hand away. At first I could count the hairs; ten, fifteen, twenty. Then they became too many to count and I was devastated by this. I let them fall from my fingers to the floor each morning, hoping if I made them disappear they would somehow sprout from my head again.

But they didn’t. So after the disaster in Montana, I decided it was time. I would not watch my hair fall out anymore. I would cut it all off, and get a wig. It had to be better than watching it all slowly fall out, accumulating on the floor, in the shower, and all over the backs of my sweaters and coats.

My aunt took me to Merle Norman, the only place she knew to get wigs. As a hair dresser and salon owner, she had scouted out the store before bringing my mother and I there one Saturday afternoon. I tried on a variety of styles. Many looked fake and it was obvious I was wearing a wig.

I finally settled on one that was slightly lighter than my natural color and longer than my hair currently was. It also had bangs, which I hadn’t sported since elementary school. Once it was boxed up and we were in the car, I asked the question I had wanted to ask all day.

“So will you cut my hair now?”

My aunt looked at me in the rear view mirror and sort of smiled, “Are you sure?”

I felt a knot in my chest, “Well I can’t wear the wig unless we do.”

“Okay, then.”

As we drove to her salon I was nervous. I’d never had short hair, not since kindergarten, and then it still covered my ears. When we arrived, she worked without talking. I didn’t look at myself. When she was done, I didn’t recognize the person in the mirror blinking back at me. I put on the wig then and Aunt Jo cut that too, styling it to make it more like a style I might have actually chosen for my real hair.

I said goodbye to my mother and thanked my aunt, before heading back to my apartment at school, driving alone I was anxious to show my roommates the wig I was wearing, needing them to tell me it looked good. But when I arrived, no one was parked outside, and my heart began to beat more quickly. I climbed the stairs and unlocked the door, letting myself in. I went down the hall to my room.

The moment I walked in, I caught myself in the mirror hanging on the wall opposite the door. I was startled then, not recognizing myself. I took off my coat slowly, not taking my eyes off that mirror. I walked closer, trembling. I looked ridiculous. It couldn’t be me. Now an inch from the mirror, I grabbed at my cheeks, pulling the skin hard enough that it hurt. It was really me.

My heart was racing. Who was I? What had I done? I needed to take that thing off my head, that itchy mass of fake hair. I ripped it off and threw it against the wall. But what I looked at now was even more frightening than what I had seen when I walked in. the little bit of my hair that was left stuck up in every direction. I tried to brush it down, but it stuck to the brush, controlled by static electricity, making my head look like a Chia pet. My lips trembled, and my body shook as I crumbled to the floor, pulling at my hair, wanting not for it to fall out, but for it to grow long again. I pulled and pulled, but it didn’t grow. I lay on the floor for a long time, and the crying turned to sobs and the sobs to hysterics. I couldn’t stop.

What felt like a long time later I called my mother, who couldn’t understand a word I said through the gasps I was taking, trying to get the cries under control. She told me she was coming, and that I shouldn’t go anywhere. I nodded, not able to speak through the wracking sobs. She made the hour drive to my apartment, arriving in forty minutes.

I answered the door still crying and she put her arms around me and we stood there for some time. Then she came in and convinced me that it wasn’t so bad. We experimented with headbands and scarves, bobby pins and barrettes. She didn’t leave until my roommates were back, and they all assured me that I looked great. My roommates and I named the wig Sally that night, and they even took turns trying her on, all agreeing I looked much better than they did in it.

I wore Sally every day of student-teaching after that. The teachers knew, but none ever had the nerve to ask me why; they preferred to talk about me behind my back, but after that first meltdown I did what I had learned to do well by then. I made jokes about it and I kept going. To work, to class, and to the elementary school where I did my student teaching; I kept living and moved on, taking it one day, one hour, one moment at a time.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Little Makeover

I'm doing some life-housekeeping, so I decided to extend it to the blog, too. Let me know what you think of the new background! I was getting tired of all that white space.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Half Marathon: Promise Kept

for the first time ever on the blog, this is me. After the race :)

At the close of my Six Mile July Challenge, I committed to running a half marathon by the end of 2010. And, with just under two months left, I ran the first annual Bird-in-Hand half marathon to benefit the Bird-in-Hand fire department. I didn't take the challenge lightly, I followed a Nike+ running program almost to the letter. My training went well overall, but the longest I ever ran in a long training run was twelve miles. So as I set out for the destination of the marathon yesterday, it was the uncharted territory of those 1.1 miles that had me a little nervous. It took about two hours to get to Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania. The village of Bird-in-Hand is located in the heart of Lancaster County's Amish community. As we drove closer to the packet pick-up location, traveling on narrow roads flanked by endless fields of farmland, there were more black horse drawn buggies than cars.

Once I had my packet, which included a race course map, I drove the course- I actually did it twice because some wrong turns led to a seventeen mile loop, and I didn't think I had a good feel for the course after the first drive-through. The majority of the course was flat, with a few up hill stretches and one very long downhill that was nearly half a mile.

I turned in early for the night, knowing I'd be up early to allow enough time carry out my normal pre-run routine, and drive to the race start. That drive was supposed to be eleven minutes, but thanks to there only being one way to get into Bird-in-Hand, it took closer to half an hour, which was fine, since it meant less time standing outside in the 30-something degree weather!

I admit I made a key mistake as soon as I got to the race location- I didn't do my normal stretching routine. I warmed up before leaving the hotel, but I didn't stretch. Why? I had time, so I don't really have a good reason...I guess in the excitement, I forgot. Despite this really amateur error, I was focused. I knew I needed to start easy if I was going to make it all the way through without hitting the infamous 'wall'. So I focused on keeping a consistent and comfortable pace, not getting caught up in passing people to get closer to the front.

Throughout the entire race, I was glad I had taken the time to drive the course; there is something comforting about knowing where you're going and seeing things that look familiar.

So what made my race experience special? There were a few things that I think made this race unique. First, I'm sure people living on any race course come out to cheer on runners passing by, but there were so many people! At the end of nearly every driveway was a family- an Amish family- cheering us on as we passed by. This continued throughout the entire course, and I must say, I was amused, and I really liked it.

The next difference came as I approached mile 2, where there was a bathroom stop. Now I haven't run any other races this long, but I'm willing to bet that there aren't any others that have their facilities at Amish one-room school houses. In case you're wondering, all the schools on the route had a fenced in yard and two small outbuildings- that's right- good old fashioned outhouses for the boys and the girls. I almost stopped out of curiosity, but resisted the urge in favor of a better finishing time.

If you haven't gotten the feeling already, the Amish seem to be a pretty hospitable people. But they did more than just cheer on runners and share their outhouses, they also enthusiastically manned every water station. Men, women, and children held out cups of water as they cried out words of encouragement. It was cool, but it was more moving to recognize that what we were seeing was how the 'English' community of Bird-in-Hand work cooperatively with their Amish neighbors. For a small town to put on a big race like this, it was, well, impressive, and clearly a team effort.

While I was enjoying the countryside and the Amish, around mile 4 I started to get a nagging feeling in my hip, something that started in a long run about two weeks ago. I alleviated it by warming up the muscles before running, which I did today, but clearly my warm up was no match for the 30-degree weather and tense muscles that come with racing. I stopped a few times to warm the muscles up again, and it was bearable. Then somewhere between mile 8 and 9, I started to get pain on the side of my right knee, something I hadn't felt since last spring when I increased my mileage too quickly. I knew it was my iliotibial band. I got through that injury with some iliotibial specific stretches, which I do before and after every run, with the exception of this one, since I forgot. Oops.

The pain was bad, but not enough to stop me. I pushed through, knowing that if I finished strong, there were no upcoming training runs to save myself for. This was it. As I ran into the muddy chute, which was located in a field, I kept running, needing to cross the mats that would register the chip tied to my shoe, and give me my official finishing time.

Feeling the mud squishing under my sneakers, knowing what I'd just accomplished, it was awesome. When I saw the clock, I was surprised. My goal was to finish in under 2:15, but I decided I would be happy with anything under 2:20, realistically. But as I crossed, the big clock said 2:09, and I knew I my chip time would be a little less that that, because I started in the back of the pack. My final official chip time was 2:07:13. A volunteer cut the chip off my shoe, as another placed a medal over my head. I really did it.

As I write this, I am laying on the couch, ice on my knee, heat on my hip, and I have been laying here for most of the afternoon. My body hurts, so, so much. But I have no regrets. Today was another victory, another promise kept with myself, and once again I have proved to myself that cancer has nothing on me. I feel that by running a half, I have proved something to myself, and hopefully to you. If I can do it, so can you. Pick a challenge. Own it. Prove to yourself and the world what you can do. Why? Because I promise, for all the hard work you'll have to put in, accomplishing something like this feels really, really good.

Hope, love, run,
(Half) Marathon Girl...I feel like I finally own that name :)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Why a Cancer Survivor Runs

My friend Leah just completed her first 5K despite a slew of health-related reasons it should have been impossible. Read her awesome 2-part post about running her first race, and what drove her to do it. It brought tears to my eyes, thanks Leah!
Read it here:
For part 1, scroll down and read up.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Full Circle

I recently wrote about the opportunity to share my cancer experience in a more public way. Last night, in our nation's capital, I stood in front of a room of people, cameras flashing, film rolling, and I listened as words I wrote about my tumultuous relationship with cancer were read by a man named Tim Cook, who happens to be the Vice President of Lilly Oncology. I held my breath as he read these words- my words- "I held onto the hope I would pick up the pieces of myself when it was all over. But I couldn't. I kept my cancer a secret. Ultimately, I realized I needed to tell my story and wrote it all down; 150 pages later, I found I had untangled myself from cancer's grip. I said goodbye. Goodbye past, goodbye pain, goodbye cancer, I've won and that means you lose. I am finally free."
Then I took a deep breath and stepped forward to meet Mr. Cook at his podium, and while he presented me with a trophy, a piece of artwork I created nearly six months ago was unveiled. I can only describe the time I was on stage as one of those rare moments in which still images of one's life flashes before them; a full-circle moment. One in which it seems that in the blink of an eye, everything aligns, and suddenly all the things that made no sense for so long- all the pain, despair, struggle and fight- culminate, and it all miraculously makes perfect sense. That moment, the experience of sharing my story- my secret- in that way suddenly made the chaos cancer brought to my life make perfect sense. But there are no words for that.
What I felt in that moment is what Lilly Oncology on
Canvas is all about. the competition and subsequent two-year cross-country tour of artwork and accompanying narratives is an incredible program. It allows individuals touched by cancer to share their story, and the artwork and written words instill hope, understanding, and inspiration in anyone who has the privilege of experiencing them. I feel so blessed to have been one of the top three best-of-exhibition winners. I don't envy the judges, all of the 160 pieces on display in Union Station were outstanding. Here's to all the 6oo-plus participants, and a special thanks to all the amazing people from Lilly, TogoRun, and NCCS that I had the honor of spending time with while in Washington DC. I cannot thank you enough for the opportunity to share my story, and come full circle with cancer.
below is the narrative piece I submitted with my artwork (above) titled 'No Words'.

I was twenty-one when cancer disrupted my life. I was in college. I was in love. I was unstoppable. In the months following my diagnosis and treatment, I lost my hair, my invincibility, and the boy I thought I would marry. Through the year I spent undergoing treatment, I held on to the hope that I would pick up the pieces of myself when it was all over, that I might walk away unscathed. But when I finally was told I was better, that I should go and live my life, I couldn’t put things back together in any way that made sense, because nothing was the same. So as I graduated from college and got a job, I pretended to be normal. Cancer was a secret I kept from most of the people in my life. Eventually though, I began to realize how badly I needed to tell the story of my experience with cancer. I was compelled to write it all down because the burden of keeping the secret and carrying the memories became more than I could bear. One year, and one hundred fifty pages later, I found that I had finally untangled myself from cancer's grip.

When I was finished writing, I took a deep breath, a sigh of relief, really, and found that I could finally say goodbye. Although it was quite some time since I had been truly ill, it wasn’t until I finished telling my story that I was able to let it all go. What I realized after I wrote it all down was that I would never be the person I was before; I am now stronger, more self-assured, and have a perspective that allows me to balance my life in a way my same-age peers have not yet discovered. I don’t think it’s important for anyone else to read my words. They’re mine, and it was the act of writing them that freed me. With this idea in mind, I converted just a few of the storied contained in those one-hundred-fifty pages to a piece of artwork, but you don’t need to read the words, because they don’t really matter. What’s important is that through writing them, I finally said goodbye; goodbye past, goodbye pain, goodbye cancer. I've won, and that means that you lose. I am finally, free!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

What Does it Feel Like to Fly?

I wish I could fly. Probably because I have had a vivid recurring dream about it. I have had this dream throughout my whole life, but it visited me much more often when I was doing chemo. I slept a lot that year, and for whatever reason, I frequently would wake up and have a clear memory of the following dream:

I am in a field, usually green, but sometimes it is fall and the ground is cool, brown, and moist. My bare feet lift off the ground, and lighter than the air, I float upward and after rising to a staggering height, I then gently return to the ground, and when I feel the earth beneath me, I let myself fall until my knees nearly touch the earth, and then I push off and am weightless again. When I am in the air, I can propel myself forward, gliding and taking flight.

I never thought I would feel this while I was awake, but on Sunday, as I ran ten miles on narrow, winding country roads, the sky bluer than blue, a river rushing along beside me, for the first time, I felt like I was flying. I had already run eight miles, so maybe it was runner's high, or maybe it was exhaustion kicking in, or the fact that I couldn't really feel my legs anymore, but for the first time, I felt that if I looked down, my feet would not be hitting the ground. I felt like I was flying, and it was amazing.

I didn't know what it would feel like to run ten miles. Now I do, and it was incredible. Aside from feeling like I was flying, it was painful, exhausting, and frightening, but the magic of it far outweighed those things. It reminded me why I love running. I was sore later, but that didn't overshadow the magic of running farther than I ever had before. Just three days later, I found myself running eight hilly miles. Yesterday's run felt surprisingly easy, and I ran 9:15 miles the whole time without feeling out of breath. I didn't feel like I was flying, but it still made me feel amazing.

I don't think I have anything else to say, except that I am really looking forward to running 12 miles on Sunday, I don't know what it will be like, but I can't wait to find out.

Hope, love, run,
Marathon Girl

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Risks and Rewards

There are thirty-three days left until half-marathon race day. I knew things had been going too smoothly when last Sunday I ran eight miles without batting an eyelash. I drank a cocktail of 1/3 G2 Gatorade and 2/3 water. During the last two miles, I ate a few small pieces of Trader Joe's dried mango and by the time I arrived back home, I felt pretty awesome.

Flash forward to Tuesday. I worked all day and then ran the three miles I was scheduled to do. I felt so good, I decided to go to Pilates class afterward. Go me, right? Not so much. Wednesday morning, I woke up and discovered I could hardly walk because of a sharp pain in the arch of my right foot. Uh-oh. I spent the day stressing about how there was no way I would be able to do the six miles I was slated to run that afternoon. I spent the evening icing my foot, and swimming the time I would have spent running.

I continued to ice and rest, and miraculously, after just three days, the pain subsided and seems to be completely gone. I wasn't sure if I should run today. I had that I-don't-know-if-this-is-a-good-idea feeling in the pit of my stomach. I used to run in the opposite direction of anything that provoked that feeling.
Example: Between the ages of 8 and 12 I actually refused to ski on any trail more difficult than a beginner, despite being capable, because after a frightening accident, skiing gave me 'that feeling'. My family skied every weekend, and it took me four long years to get over it.

However, I actually hadn't had 'the feeling' in quite some time, but having it today reminded me of a more recent time I felt strongly that I wanted to run away.

Four months into chemo, I got glaucoma and went blind. It happened while I was far, far away from home and was terrifying. Once the cause was discovered, I was able to see within a few days. After recuperating for just over a week, I found myself returning to my college campus, and getting the address of the school at which I would complete the student teaching requirement I needed to fulfill to graduate. That's right- cancer goes to college. And if it wants to graduate on time, it also goes to an elementary school to student-teach. Before beginning officially, I had to go and visit the scool. The whole drive there, I wanted to turn around. Thanks to a 6-lane highway with a large median, I couldn't. But when I got there and met the teacher I would be working with, I had to fight with all I had not to run out of there. Mixing cancer and college just seemed like a really, really bad idea. But I did it. I stayed that day, and I went back five days a week for the next four months.

As much as I wanted to, I didn't run away. I have learned from repeatedly pushing through those awfully uncomfortable situations that if I don't bolt, there's a pretty good chance I'll be happy I took the risk. So when I found myself questioning whether I was ready to run today, I assessed the actual condition of my foot- it felt fine. So I put on my sneakers, color-coordinated my running apparel, and hit the street.

Since I'm writing this, clearly I survived. I was able to run. And it didn't hurt. As I've found to be the case more often than not, that I don't regret taking the risk. Tomorrow I will run 10 miles, the farthest I have ever run. Is it a risk? Yes. Do I feel a little nervous? Sure. I don't know if I can run ten miles, but I won't ever know if I don't try. What I do know is that I can ski black diamonds, and I graduated on time, despite cancer's efforts to derail that plan. So I know from those experiences that it will feel really, really good when I get back home, because whether or not I succeed, I will have taken the risk, and THAT is an accomplishment to be proud of.

Hope, Love, Run!
Marathon Girl

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Despite the title, this post has nothing to do with Halloween, bones, or actual skeletons. It has to do with the fact that when I think of my public portrayal of my cancer experience at this point, it seems that cancer has become a bit of a skeleton in the closet of my life.

I've tucked cancer neatly away somewhere between old boyfriends and high school- in other words, it's in the section titled 'Past'- but that hasn't kept me from feeling like I need to pile things up in front of it so no one has to look at it or think about it.

Although I have made peace with cancer, it's not something I have been in the habit of discussing on a regular basis. There was a time when I could not imagine discussing my life without including cancer, because it was such a dominating force in my life. But since finishing treatment, I have made the conscious choice not to include cancer in certain facets of my existence, and the longer I find myself post-treatment, the more cancer-free areas of life I've created. However, I think the time may have come for me to stop intentionally omitting cancer from the facts of my life.

I have found myself, at times, telling half-truths to avoid the simple fact of cancer. For example, when asked about the arm sleeve I wear when exercising, I usually respond that i just 'hurt' my arm. Or when questioned about scars, I reply that I had surgery (duh). I think I do this because don't want to be identified solely as a survivor, because I am so many other things. I fear that telling people will limit me to being known just as 'the cancer survivor'. But I also don't want cancer to be a skeleton in my closet.

It's certainly not that I am not ashamed of what I have been through; I am proud to have survived. I just don't want being a survivor to define how people view me. But I think that at this point in the journey, I am prepared to tell my story because I hope that it might inspire someone else. That's the whole reason I created Hope, Love, Run. But if you haven't noticed, I have never said my name, provided describing characteristics, or a location. It is not an accident that just a fraction of the people who read this actually know my identity.

I have recently been presented with an opportunity to share my story in a potentially much more public way. I think I have come to the conclusion that I want to do this, and not with the sense of anonymity that comes with the online world; this time it will be with my face, my name, and my voice. I don't really know what the implications of this leap might be, but I think that it is an opportunity to reach others who are not as far out of treatment as I am. I hope that I can be an encouragement, an example, and a voice of hope that shows those that are still fighting that people do survive, thrive, and move on.

Here's to taking the leap!

Hope. Love. Run.
Marathon Girl

Sunday, August 22, 2010


I had an appointment with my oncologist this week. Between 2006 and 2007, for an entire year, we had a standing weekly date (I use the term ‘date’ loosely…ours consisted of me having my vitals taken, blood drawn, and lymph nodes felt up. All that, and no dinner!). Then, for the first two-and-a-half years after I completed chemo, we saw each other every three months. This week’s visit was actually the first time we went six whole months between visits.

Returning to the place I spent so much time being sick has simply served as an unsettling reminder of the year I spent coming and going from that place all too frequently. However, this time, it was different. This time, I felt a sense of power and accomplishment walking through those doors, because I am not the same person I was when I was emaciated and weak, fighting my way through treatment, and I am not scared the way I was during, and even after, I finished treatment. I have beaten cancer. It has taken me several years, but I finally believe that.

Sure, I finished treatment nearly three years ago, but exiting treatment wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine like I thought it would be. I’ve heard this time period- the first months and years after treatment- called refraction*; all the pieces of yourself are there, but you haven’t yet put them back together in a way that feels whole or complete.

Making the refraction process harder was the fact that it seemed that every six months when I had a CT scan, it showed changes that led me on a multi-week nightmare in which I underwent further testing while doing a mediocre job of holding myself together as I lived my day-to-day life. Was it back? Would this be the time it had spread? Would I be labeled with an expiration date? It was awful. However, eventually, I got used to CT scans being bad news and learned to wait for the follow up tests before I freaked out too much. Luckily, each scare turned out to be just that- a scare. So other than some extra radiation and an exploratory surgery, everything turned out okay.

It’s only been in the last six or eight months that I have come to truly own the fact that cancer is part of my past, not my present. It is actually behind me. I am planning a future without the hesitation that comes with the thought that a five or ten year plan might be pushing my luck. Cementing this belief was my visit with my oncologist this week. For the first time in the four years I have been coming to that place, I was not afraid; I did not feel defeated. I chatted with the nurses who took my blood, and I had a good conversation with the doctor about organic food and the farm. But the best part was when he told me that for the first September in four years, I did not need to have a CT scan! In his departing words to me he said, “Since you feel great, and you’re four years out, there’s no reason to expose you to the radiation. Call me if anything comes up, otherwise I’ll see you in six months. Be well.”

There is something very liberating about knowing I am on the other side of cancer. If you’re still fighting, I can assure you, it is not an illusion. The grass really IS greener on this side of this fence.

Hope, Love, Run!

-Marathon Girl

*Refraction- To the best of my knowledge this term was coined by Imerman Angels founder, Jonny Imerman. He says: "We call it the refraction’s that period where...a ray of light – which is you – hits this object – cancer – and instead of being in that same straight line, you really refract it. You’re sort of going off in a little bit [of a] different direction because who you are now [is a person who is] in this group of people that you never thought you’d be in...that not necessarily a bad thing and in fact, in many ways I think it’s a wonderful thing and you know, I think my life is ten times better."

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

On to the Next Challenge!

It's been a few weeks since I completed the Six Mile July Challenge, and I've been loving the sense of accomplishment that has come with it. I was so excited when Earndit posted the July winners on their blog, and was humbled to see that they even linked to my post about the challenge on Hope.Love.Run!

At the close of the challenge, I gave my sneakers (and my feet) a few days off before taking a trip to Chicago for a long weekend. While I was away, I had the pleasure of running in a new city, which was a great change of pace. I ran along beautiful Lake Michigan and got to see some estate homes that are located in the neighborhoods just off the Northwestern campus. I felt that I was in good company while running. Chicago is in marathon-training mode with the big race only two months away. There were runners everywhere- packs of them- something I had not seen before, but I found the sight of hundreds of people just running, not racing, inspiring.

When I got home, I set up a coach program on the Nike+ site to begin training for a half-marathon. According to the site, I'll be ready to run 13.1 miles by the end of October. I'm still looking for an actual race to do in early November (taking suggestions!)

I'm a week into training and feeling really good. Six Mile July gave me a strong running base so I am feeling confident that I can do this! I want to run to raise funds for charity, but I think this first long distance race will be for me, just to prove that I can do it. I may do another half in the spring, but my ultimate goal is to complete a full marathon early next summer. Preferably on June 5th, 2011. That will mark five years since my cancer diagnosis- the big cancerversary What is a cancerversary you ask? I have been anticipating this day since I found out what a cancerversary was. What better way to commemorate it than to complete the ultimate race. I'm not quite ready to commit to a full marathon as a promise, but I am confident in my ability to complete a half. So barring any injuries that are beyond my control, I will complete a half marathon before 2010 comes to a close, and that is a promise.

Hope. Love. Run!
Marathon Girl

Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Promise Worth Keeping

Hooray! I have successfully finished my Six Mile July Challenge! That's right. I traveled by foot a minimum of six miles each day for an entire month. The grand total came to just over 190 miles. That's the equivalent of seven marathons, the distance between New York City and Baltimore, or the length of Massachusetts from east to west. As I wrote before, it was not always easy, but I've proved it is possible.

I underestimated how good it would feel when I finished this challenge, but as the digital girl voice in my Nike+ came through my headphones, telling me I had just completed a six mile run- the one that meant I had completed the challenge I began a month ago, I couldn't help but run faster, grinning as I completed the remaining half-mile that took me from the center of town toward home. Doing this, winning Earndit for July was more than a challenge. It was a promise.

Why? I think I have always had a competitive streak, but it runs deeper than that. Winning top points for Earndit this month was a promise, and I believe that the most important promises to keep are the ones we make with with ourselves. This promise thing isn't a new revelation for me. I have a history of making- and keeping- promises with myself.

When at 21 I was told I had the 'choice' of completing a year-long non-cycled chemotherapy regiment (the other choice was to wait and see if the cancer came back post-surgery. Not exactly a viable option!) I promised myself that if I started the program, I would finish it, knowing full well that only one in three people who started taking the drug actually completed the full year of treatment. twelve months later, I was in the minority as one of the finishers.

A week after I completed the treatment promise, I made another. I bought a membership at the YMCA and decided that I would never take my body's ability to do miraculous things for granted. After all, it had fought cancer, recovered from three surgeries all less than a month apart, and endured twelve months of toxic immunochemotherapy. If my body was capable of doing that, the least I could do was love it. I was never a runner before cancer, but somehow I tied running to loving and appreciating my body. Starting to run was a turning point for me. It marked the start of a life of living after cancer. That's why I believe that while treatment saved me from cancer, it was running that saved me from treatment. It's been nearly three years since I promised to honor my body, and I feel I have kept that promise.

When you take into account the scope of the previous promises I have undertaken, Six Mile July may seem slightly less impressive. But whatever your thoughts are, I encourage you to make promises with yourself. Start small and make a commitment you can keep. Take a walk after dinner each night this week. Eat more vegetables, join Earndit. But don't just do these things, make a change into a promise. Write it down, tell people, make yourself accountable. Start small and you might just be amazed by what can be accomplished when you keep a promise with the most influential person in your life- You.

Hope, Love, Run,
and thank you, Earndit :)