Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Fight of a Lifetime

One in three Americans will be diagnosed with cancer during their lifetime. 70,000 young adults are diagnosed each year. 54,000 Americans were diagnosed with my type of cancer they year I was diagnosed. I could continue on with statistics that I haven't actually read in four years, because like most survivors, these stats are permanently burned into my mind.

When I was diagnosed, there was little being done for the young adult cancer population, but just months after my diagnosis the first comprehensive resource site for young adults came into existence. The I'm Too Young For This Foundation (i2y) changed the isolation that I and every one of those 70,000 diagnosed felt.

I've been forced to reflect on my own cancer journey recently, because cancer seems to have re-entered my life. I knew the day would come when someone I knew as a normal, healthy young adult would enter the rabbit hole of cancer, but I didn't know it would make me feel the way it has.

I've been thinking practically about what I wish I had been told at the beginning. So here are my top five pieces of advice for surviving becoming a survivor:

1. It does get easier. That feeling of waking up every morning and asking yourself if the nightmare is over yet, will eventually fade. You will become a professional cancer patient, and your job will be to go to the doctor, take tests, and get infusions. While it won't be fun, it will become a routine, and that will make it easier.

2. People are freaked out by cancer. People can be scared by your cancer. They may not contact you because they don't know what to say, it brings up issues of loss that they are afraid to deal with, or they think you need space to come to grips with how your life has changed. Sometimes it is disappointing when someone you love can't stand to be around you as you go through this challenge, but it helps to remember those who matter don't mind, and those who mind don't matter. Some people might resurface after your fight is over, others may never return. Let them go.

3. It really is all about YOU. If you want to eat ice cream for breakfast, eat it. If you feel like wearing your pajamas and a tiara to the grocery store, do it. If you want to celebrate your survival-at whatever time you deem appropriate-by going shopping, go for it. You have cancer. It's an excuse to do whatever you feel like, within reason, of course.

4. Connect. Feeling alone like a bald, emaciated alien sucks. You're not the only person with cancer, and you are not the only person who is dealing with it as a young adult. Join a support group (if you find a good one, the old people won't mind that you're young!), go on a retreat for young survivors, or locate young adult-specific support by phone/internet.

5. Know that this, too shall pass. You will not be in treatment forever. Life is good after cancer, in fact, it's better than it was before. I thought this was crap for a long time. It took a whopping two and a half years after treatment was over for me to feel like a whole person after cancer. Don't feel like a failure if you don't feel whole after a year or two. There will be recurrence scares, scans to stress about, and lumps that will send you screaming to your oncologist. This is all normal. You will emerge with an appreciation for life, understanding with death, and a wisdom that is well beyond your years. Cancer will change you, and it will be for the better.

Fight. Survive. Livestrong.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

6 Mile July

I survived the last week of work before summer break. Usually this is a happy, exciting time, but in light of layoffs it was probably one of the hardest weeks ever. There was a lot of anger, frustration, and tears. Despite all this, it is behind me; those last four days dragged out and felt like months.

As I move into my summer schedule, which offers me a lot more freedom, I have decided to take on a challenge. Normally my summer includes a trip where I do something crazy, like learn to whitewater kayak in a week (thank you First Descents!). In light of the uncertainty of my job, I backed out of my preplanned adventure, so I've been seeking some sort of challenge to take my trip's place. While it's not nearly as exciting, I have come up with a plan that is less financially consuming but may prove to be quite time consuming.

At the beginning of May, I wrote about I found out about the site through facebook's creepy targeted advertisements. Earndit popped up on the side of my homepage and told me I should participate. I clicked on the link partly because the concept sounded interesting, and also because the little illustration of an orange hamster on it's wheel was particularly cute.

Earndit has proved to be as addictive as facebook, I run with my Nike+ and then upload my run to the Nike site, which automatically links to Earndit. Earndit awards a point for every .1 mile ran/walked, maxing out at 60 points (6 miles) a day. I log on to Earndit after every run and check out my rankings. In the last three weeks, I've progressed from being ranked at about 175 for all-time points to breaking into the top 100.

Each month, Earndit profiles the top point earner of the month. To win this title, I need to log 6 miles a day, every day in July. Yes, I know, this sounds crazy. However, I can combine running and walking, so knowing that, I think it's a doable challenge.

You heard it here first, I will be the top earner on Earndit for July. It may not be quite as cool as running class III rapids on in Washington State, but I'm up for the challenge.

Hope, Love, Run,
-Marathon Girl

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Survivor's Guilt

Whether you're a cancer survivor or not, you have probably experienced the feeling known as 'survivor's guilt'. This feeling of overwhelming sadness for another person extends well beyond typical empathy and can be overwhelming. People experience survivor's guilt after living through some catastrophic incident in which others do not survive. By some twist of fate others are left shattered or damaged, while you are fine. I have experienced survivor's guilt in the sense that I have outlived friends who were in remission when I was in treatment, only to relapse and fight all over again while I finished treatment and moved forward with my life. Some of these friends recovered, others did not.

While it's not life or death, employment is livelihood. And for the last several months I have found myself feeling like I'm in a twisted game of 'Survivor' or 'The Weakest Link' everyday at work. Impending cuts made each day feel like a fight to keep employment. But as it turns out, there was no single weakest link, it's more like everyone was voted off the island all at once, although I'm not sure who voted, because it certainly wasn't my peers.

In these tough economic times, companies are laying employees off on a regular basis. I happen to be one of the lucky few who have been able to keep their job. I just survived the most recent round of layoffs. In the aftermath, all but one employee who had equal or less time on the job than me was let go. So here I am, back at the bottom of the totem pole (but still employed!) and feeling an overwhelming sense of guilt. My colleagues are just as good, just as valuable, as I am. So why will they now be collecting unemployment while I am getting a paycheck? I know I should be relieved. After all, I was terrified of losing my job, and with it my insurance. I don't have to worry about this, so why am I feeling so terrible? And more importantly, how do I get past it?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

CSA-ing it for the Summer!

Not to be confused with CSI, or the CPA, CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture- although I might rename it Continuous Salad Abundance, based on the status of my fridge over the past few weeks.

CSA's are great for several reasons.
1. It costs a lot less than buying organic produce at the grocery store
2. The food has literally just been picked, which equates to higher nutrient values
3. Joining a CSA supports local farming
4. You truly get to know where your food is coming from, who is growing it, and that it is going to be fresh

If this sounds good to you, let me fill you in on what may be the most old fashioned yet ingeniously green idea to become en vogue since the green movement started.

To create a CSA program, a farm decides to sell 'shares' of what they grow. For a set cost, community members become share-holders by paying up front for a share of what the farm grows. In return, each CSA share-holder receives weekly shares of whatever the farm harvests over the course of the growing season.

Farms may offer one or both of two share types. A payshare, means the member pays a predetermined amount and gets their produce each week, end of relationship. Farms can also offer workshares. Workshare members pay less, but pledge to work a certain number of hours at the farm over the course of the growing season.

My CSA has been providing me with huge amounts of organic produce each week! I have resorted to giving away about half of it to family and friends, which is fine because there is no way I could eat as much as I am getting. I have also been expanding my recipe repertoire because every week I have come home with things I have never purchased at a grocery store, like escarole, bok choy, and arugula. (bok choy salad and arugula pesto are two of my new favorite foods!) In addition to new things, I also have been getting seasonal favorites such as strawberries, snow peas, romaine lettuce, and spinach.

If you want to learn more about CSA-ing it or find a CSA, check out one of these sites, which provide more info and allow you to search for a CSA near you:
Local Harvest
Farm Locator

Friday, June 4, 2010

Happy Cancerversary to ME!

Yikes! it's been nearly a month since I have posted anything! This is a busy time of year for me, but things will be slowing back down again soon, I hope. I've made most of my posts on here running-related, but this weekend marks a milestone for me, so I am going in a different direction with this one.

What annual event is possibly more meaningful than a birthday, wedding anniversary, or holiday? Ask a cancer survivor, and they'll probably tell you that their cancerversary is at the top of their list of days to celebrate. So what is a cancerversary? While I am annoyed that as I write this, 'cancerversary' is underlined with a red squiggly line, Urban Dictionary does recognize the term, and suggests it is "a reason for a really, really big party." A cancerversary is a day a survivor celebrates the fact that they are still alive. Some survivors I know celebrate their cancerversary as the day they were diagnosed, or the last day of chemo, others commemorate the date of a bone marrow or stem cell transplant.

Regardless of when it is celebrated, I think that it is important to commemorate the milestone of continuing to live after a cancer diagnosis. This weekend will mark my fourth cancerversary- I mark mine with the date I was diagnosed. I celebrate this specific day for two reasons- first, I believe every day is mine to enjoy. Although I think about cancer everyday, it isn't going to ruin any days for me. However, on the day I was diagnosed, cancer ruined my day. Celebrating that day is like taking it back. Instead of being the worst day of my life, it's a celebration. Because I say it is. The other reason to celebrate this day is because each year means I am 365 days closer to the magical five-year mark, which is the irrelevant point at which my doctors will finally say that it is unlikely my cancer will recur, so that means next year will be reason to have a really, really, really big party. Watch out.

So on the eve of my cancerversary- the thought of which makes me as excited as I used to get the night before Christmas- I am filled with a sense of pride, because I have not only survived, I have learned to live beyond the words and stigma that come with hearing the words "You have cancer."

So if you are a survivor, throw yourself a really big party. Pick a day and celebrate. If you know someone who isn't celebrating their cancerversary, tell them they should start. Hopefully, they'll invite you to their really, really big party.

Hope.Love.Run (x4)