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 :)