The year that was…

As the trifle slowly works its way down from my stomach to my hips – where I’m certain it’s to remain for a while – it’s time to put some brainpower into recapping on the past twelve months (a little hard with “chemo brain”).

While my mind is fresh from yesterday, I’ll recap on Christmas Day. Santa was very good to me this year. Let’s face it… I’ve been pretty good. The biggest present was eight days beachfront with the family. It’s been the perfect post-chemo recovery – fresh air and ocean swims. In addition to the multitude of presents, mother prepared a delicious feast for us. We did our best at consuming more than was required – standard. The day was completed with a post trifle ocean swim, and a few rounds at Canasta. Christmas success.

A mention must also go to the TWO Christmas babies! “Merry Christmas, we’re in labour,” was not the message I was expecting from my special friends, Michael and Alex Atkinson – baby Mia, a very early surprise! My cousin also became a father, welcoming another girl, Addison (she was due on Christmas Day, clearly a very punctual little girl).

So here we are, Christmas Day done. Hello… Boxing Day! For me, today indicates the wind down of the year, more than NYE. It’s been a big year – no surprises there. I know it would be normal for my mind to only be consumed by thoughts of my cancer diagnosis and treatment. But that only happened in August. What about the other seven months?

Technology, particularly Facebook, allows you to look back and “re-live” your year. This morning I have done just that. I have scrolled through my Facebook Newsfeed and reminisced on my “social media” year.

Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start (sorry if you have The Sound of Music stuck in your head for the rest of the day). On January 1st, I wrote: “2013: my year for having a number pinned to my shirt. Duathlon, Tough Mudder, 1/2 Marathon….”

On NYD, 2013, I knew I wanted to spend the year competing. Why? No idea… I wanted to try new things, I guess. From January to August, I stuck to my NY’s resolution mindset and did the following:

  • A Super-Sprint Duathlon (in the snow!), finishing third
  • A Super-Sprint Triathlon (in Israel), finishing fourth in my age group
  • TOUGH MUDDER (in the rain and hail!)
  • I started open-water training, placing third in my first 750 meter swim event
  • A Sprint Triathlon

I purchased a road bike and braved the streets of London attempting to train for triathlons. I also decided that I wanted to compete in an Ironman event. I was about to pay for my registration when I was diagnosed – talk about timing! Not only was 2013 a year of physical achievements, after three years of applying for a job to work on Private Jets…I was finally recruited for one.

Then came August. The rest you know.

2013 is going to be remembered for many things, not just the year I was diagnosed with cancer. It will be remembered as the year I pushed myself, and subsequently discovered more about “ME”. Yes, I have traded numbers pinned to my shirt for numbers on hospital wristbands. I accepted that months ago. This NYE I will not be counting down to bid farewell to an awful year. I will merely welcoming a new one. Treatment continues into the early part of 2014, but there are still many more months to follow.

A belated Merry Christmas, an early Happy New Year, and a massive THANK YOU for all the extra love and support that has been thrown my way. Now it’s time for leftovers and more Canasta.

Super Sprint Duathlon

My first race

My first race

Race results - 3rd female

Race results – 3rd female

Super Sprint Triathlon in Israel - my first triathlon - 4th female in my age group

Super Sprint Triathlon in Israel – my first triathlon – 4th female in my age group

The Tough Mudder Course! We finished in 3.5hrs

The Tough Mudder Course! We finished in 3.5hrs

Sprint Triathlon

Sprint Triathlon

Sprint Triathlon

Sprint Triathlon

could’a, should’a, would’a

I know a lot of people think I have positivity oozing through my veins – probably because I’ve told you I do. Today was a day I found hard to remain positive. The nasty soul-crushing thoughts worked their way from the back of my mind to the front. Why? Today should have been my last round of chemo. I am nearing three months of chemo; a timeframe I had accepted and was prepared for. The front of my mind has accepted the extra six weeks. The back of my mind spent all day invading the front, saying “should’a, could’a, would’a.” I think it’s normal, no need to send over a straightjacket.

Today’s appointment wasn’t until 10:00 am. The late start was perfect as I hadn’t finished packing – tomorrow we leave for eight nights on the Gold Coast! Whoop! I also had Uni work to finish (of course I decided to do online study during chemo, standard). It was a quietish morning at the oncology ward, after only a 20-minute wait, I was called to see Dr Oliveira. Nothing to report from me: I had a fairly easy last round with minimal side effects. Nothing to report from Dr O: I was fit to have chemo.

There is one thing I really don’t like about chemo day: weighing myself. With mother standing over my shoulder I watched the number creep up, and up, and up…  “The scales must be wrong,” I said to mother. I’ve put on 3 KG! I went back to the waiting room thinking of all the treats I’ve had over the past few weeks, trying to work out HOW I put on 3 kg’s… “I didn’t take my shoes off before stepping on the scales, that must be it!” Problem solved. Relax.

They were finally ready for me and I was called through to the ward. As I walked in, I saw the nurse setting up at chair seven. Really, SEVEN!! She quickly remembered (after I reminded her) that I am not allowed in chair seven. Eight was free, phew. As she was preparing my chart she asked my weight. “68,” I said reluctantly, informing her it was with shoes on. She laughed and pretended to write “with shoes on” on the chart. It’s the small things… Next step: cannula. I was unlucky and the cannula didn’t go in with the first attempt. It was the same vein that was also a failed attempt last round. We have decided to never attempt that vein, again. Good decision.

The pre-meds were delivered, and I have come to the conclusion that this is the part I hate most – feeling the drugs travelling through my body and the rush of the steroids. People pay big money for that kind of rush, I think… It’s a strange feeling (I should try harder to describe this, considering I’m doing a creative writing course!). After the pre-meds had settled into the system the nurse sat next to me and started administering the chemo drugs. The photo below is the Epirubicin – one of the three drugs I receive. I find it quite fascinating and sit there, eyes fixated on the colourful liquid entering my bloodstream. Time passes quickly as I jibber away, talking the nurses ear off. The last bag was attached and it looked like we would be out in record time.

The final piece of the puzzle was completed after I received my Zoladex injection – another four week holiday for the ovaries. After a round of “Merry Christmas” wishes in the ward, we departed. And we did in fact make it out in record time: four hours!

Back home at Casa Macrae and I’m prepared with a stash of anti-nausea drugs. I have a few new concoctions I can start taking today, if I start feeling a bit icky. My motto is: Why wait! Take them all now.

Normally, 24 hours after chemo is completed, I go back to the hospital for my Neulasta injection (WBC booster). I have decided this week to give the nurses a break and self-administer (read: more time on the Gold Coast). Just when I thought my days of jabbing my stomach were over…

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CrossFit and Chemotherapy

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Now before you choke on your coffee and start dialling my number to give me a lecture, hear me out.

For those who are on my Facebook, you know I am constantly searching for articles that talk about exercise during cancer treatment. This week, a few more great articles were discovered (thanks Tishman and Fiona). The first article, written by Oliver Glass: CrossFitter by night, cancer researcher by day, fired up my desire to be back lifting weights. If I lived in the USA, I would be knocking on his door and asking if I could be his guinea pig. (Vidette he trains at CrossFit Raleigh – isn’t that near you?)

Before I get started, let me say I have never been to a CrossFit gym. I have, however, done CrossFit-style training and previous weight and resistance training. My old trainer in London, Des, trained me like a guy – not a girl. He taught me: how to do correct push-ups, deadlift 95kgs, smash a sledgehammer down onto a tyre, train with kettlebells, and much more. I feel confident and comfortable in this training environment.

When I talk about the positive benefits to training during chemo, I don’t want you to think I am making it up. Research HAS been conducted regarding exercise and cancer treatment – YES, even training during chemotherapy. Hands down, this is the best article I have read thus far:

http://activeptblog.com/2013/11/12/exercise-for-women-diagnosed-with-breast-cancer

Here is a snippet:

In a study looking at the correlation of aerobic and resistance exercise on chemotherapy side effects, 242 women undergoing chemotherapy were randomly assigned to three groups. The first group was used as a control group, and they were instructed to not exercise and take the commonly heard advice of resting while undergoing treatment.  The second group participated in supervised resistance training, and the third group had supervised aerobic training.  The aerobic training group preserved aerobic fitness and maintained pretreatment body fat levels.  The control group’s body fat levels were increased at the end of treatment.  The resistance training group experienced increased muscular strength and lean body mass.  In juxtaposition to the non-exercising group, both the aerobic and resistance training groups experienced considerably decreased negative effects from the chemotherapy treatment (Courneya).

Now that is research that makes me jump up and down!

I was told shortly after being diagnosed: “The problem is, people are diagnosed with cancer and automatically decide to get fit and healthy and start exercising heavily. The body is not used to this activity so exercise becomes problematic as the body is essentially shocked.” This is not the case for me. My body IS used to such exercise. If I start doing some push-ups, my body isn’t going to scream “What the hell are you doing to me?” it’s more likely to say “Welcome to the party, what’s taken you so long!”

CrossFit has definitely taken over Ipswich. Mother and I have been discussing joining for a few weeks now. She suggested waiting until after Christmas, but I wanted to utilise my energy levels now, before my next round (next Thursday). In my usual fashion “act now, think later” I signed up for my first session. At CrossFit Western Front, you have to complete three one-one sessions prior to commencing classes – to ensure you have correct technique and understand the movements. Today seemed liked the perfect day to book in for my first session: Friday 13th.

I decided I would to take my balding head “naked” to my session: a) I am comfortable like this b) it would be too hot training with something on my head, and c) I would have to tell them I was having chemotherapy. I know my training will need to be adjusted depending on my energy levels. I am not completely crazy! I may not be able to keep up with everyone else when I attend the group session: even if I can only manage bodyweight squats, compared to everyone else doing 30kg, big deal! I will still doing squats!

So in I walk: balding head, patchy eyebrow, triathlon t-shirt and pink shoes: “Hi, I’m here for my first CrossFit session.” I have to admit, I was really nervous (it has been over four months since I set foot in a gym!). How much strength and ability had I lost in the last four months? I wondered. I informed him about my cancer treatment and he was completely thrilled that I wanted to do some strength training to counteract the effects from chemo.

I was taken through five movements that are commonly used in class. He checked my technique for: squats, deadlifts, strict press, push-ups and pull-ups. Lucky for me, and thanks to Des, I haven’t lost my technique and we blitzed through the session. I then completed a work out of: 5x pull-ups, 5x push-ups and 15 squats – continuously for 10 minutes. I managed to get through five rounds. It was challenging and my legs now feel like jelly. But you know what, before cancer treatment, workouts like that were hard, and my legs felt like jelly. So nothing has changed. Exercise will always be hard. I accept that later through treatment, I may be flat out getting through the warm-up! I may also only have the energy to stretch and roll around on the foam roller. Hey-ho, let’s see how we go.

I want to reassure you all of this (because I know a few friends will still be worried): I am very in tune with my body. If I don’t have energy, or am not feeling 100%, I know not to push myself. But, if the next few rounds are anything like this one, I will be doing what I can. I have had two weeks of feeling completely normal and healthy. I know the days my WBC are lowest and ensure I am extra careful. I am going to try and keep a journal of my training. Maybe one day, I can help other young, fit people who are faced with cancer treatment and are unsure of what is achievable.

For now, I am back home, on the couch, in my PJ’s, watching the cricket. It’s all about keeping a healthy balance.

#cancer #chemotherapy #crossfit #training

The Bubble

This blog title could insinuate many things: Have I been online shopping for a human-sized bubble to live in, to protect against germs?  Have I wrapped myself in bubble wrap and taken my road bike for a spin? Well, the answer is no. I am referring to a different type of bubble: The Cancer Bubble.

During different stages in life, we all create and live in a ‘bubble’. The bubble may be created because of many factors: our jobs, our relationships, our sporting endeavours, our families… You eat, breathe, and sleep in your bubble. As life changes, the need and reason for the bubble will change. It may also change in size: shrink or expand to allow for your changing needs. As you can imagine, cancer, and cancer treatment, is one-big-bubble! Some days it’s all I think about. It’s all I talk about. At the moment, my cancer bubble is most prominent the days leading up to, and the days following chemo. It’s so heavily inflated I could roll down a hill without feeling a bump. As days pass, and the side effects wane, the bubble starts to deflate. I no longer have to breathe the ‘cancer bubble’ air, or drink the ‘cancer bubble’ water. I step outside.

It’s easy to step outside the bubble when you have other things to focus on. Luckily for me, I have a number of exciting things happening in my life. If a physical bubble actually existed, I would have take a needle and prematurely caused it to deflate. You all know I’m a little impatient… The past few weeks my mind has been working overtime with non-cancer related thoughts and ideas. It’s extremely refreshing!

So what has been causing my mind to spin around wildly, you ask? It all started way back in September. I spoke briefly about the idea in one of my earliest blogs: It’s not a holiday. If you remember, I took on a little (read: turning massive) project. When I moved back to Australia, I had the idea to start a parkrun event locally in Ipswich. I knew I wouldn’t be working, or running for an extended period of time. I wanted to still feel involved in some way. I took a deep breath and clicked “register new event” on the website (the day before major surgery – of course). Well.. it’s been a steady and continuous process. Some weeks I’ve been busy drafting proposals, harassing council, liaising with the parkrun coordinator AND walking a lot of 5km routes. Two weeks ago, the final piece of the parkrun puzzle fell into place: I received the funding required to officially make this happen. What an amazing feeling. It’s no longer a dream; it’s now a reality.

Some people may have thought I was a little mad for taking on such a big project during treatment. Shouldn’t I be focusing on myself, not others? Don’t be silly… Parkrun has actually done wonders for my treatment. It has kept my mind and body active. Yesterday a few friends rang to check how I was feeling after my last round of chemo.

“Great. I’ve just been out for a 5km walk/jog working on the parkrun course.”

Not what they were expecting to hear…

Parkrun has also been a blessing in disguise for another reason. It has given me an opportunity to reconnect with the Ipswich community. Through this process I have met a lot of amazing people. (There are 128 likes on the Facebook page, I think I’ll be meeting a lot more people in the New Year!). To my surprise, there are an abundant of initiatives to promote healthy living in Ipswich, and the running community is enormous.

Now for my selfless plug…

Ipswich QLD parkrun is launching on January 25th. Yes, Australia Day long weekend. It’s perfect – a 5km run allows you that extra sausage from the BBQ or ice-cold beer, right? All the details can be found on the Facebook page.

For those of you who live in Ipswich, I look forward to seeing you there!

** Random bit of information: I was researching to see what others had to say about living in a ‘cancer bubble’. It turns out, there’s an animated character whose name is Cancer Bubble (image below). The things you find on the ‘ol internet…

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