Saturday, March 21, 2009

Mile 1 of my Cancer Marathon

I originally posted this on Facebook, and am re-posting this here to explain my absence from blogging....

Many of you have been asking what is going on and I wanted to share my story. My intention is not to freak you out or make you sad, but to share what has been a crazy two weeks for me. In addition, I hope my tale is a reminder to listen to your body and when you do get injured seek medical care from those who understand runners.

About a year ago I started having excruciating pain in my left knee. It would hurt running, walking up and down stairs, etc. It would last for a day or two and then completely disappear for another month or so.

At the time I was pregnant with my second child so I asked my OB about the pain. She attributed it to the normal pains that every pregnant woman endures.

My pregnancy was very uneventful other than this occasional pain. I didn’t even have morning sickness. I ran up until the day of my induction. My second son, Porter, was born in June after a pretty easy labor and delivery. I felt great afterwards and resumed running 3 weeks later.

I continued to have pain through the summer and fall but it was less intense and more sporadic (every 1.5-2 months). I had read that the pregnancy hormones remain in your body while you are nursing so I chalked it up to residual pregnancy pain.

In January I started training for the Cincinnati Flying Pig marathon. The plan was to run it with my husband (his first) and my two college teammates.

As I increased my mileage my knee started hurting more often to the point it was chronic. I was constantly icing and stretching in order to keep it under control. When I stopped running and switched to cross training I had no pain at all.

Despite the knee pain during running, I felt great and was running really well. My workouts were tracking to a 3:10-3:15 marathon which would be a 12-17 minute PR for me. In fact, I ran a 5K time trial in early February of 19:36. This was a time I hadn’t seen since college which was 10 years and two babies ago.

Finally, in mid-February after a painful 2 hour run on hills at South Chagrin I finally decided I needed to see a doctor. I made an appointment with Dr. Nilesh Shah who is a runner and is well known in the running community.

It was about a week and a half before I could get an appointment. I was really worried about ” losing my fitness” and hurting my marathon prospects so I replicated my workouts on the bike and elliptical during this time. In retrospect I find this hilarious.On February 25, I finally saw Dr. Shah. Runners tend to get a handful of injuries, most of them due to overuse. I was sure I had an overuse injury because I felt so good and because the pain went away when I stopped running.

First, two residents saw me. They checked me for the standard running injuries and seemed a little baffled. Next, Dr. Shah took a look at my knee. After eliminating the standard problems he ordered up xrays. I took the xrays and sat down with Dr. Shah to review.

He brought up the images on his computer and then abruptly got up and left the room. That was my first indication that things weren’t going well. He came back a few minutes later and explained that he had observed patchiness on my left femur and wanted to consult with a radiologist. Dr.Shah and the radiologist suspected it may be from bone loss from the pregnancy but wanted an MRI to make sure it wasn’t anything more sinister.

I had the MRI on Friday. They gave me a copy of the images on CD and I spent the weekend Googling “MRI images of the knee”. While the internet has a lot of info, it’s no substitute for medical school and I was unable to diagnose anything.

On Sunday night, I checked my phone and saw that there was a voicemail from Dr. Shah. From the timing of the call and the urgency in Dr. Shah’s voice, I knew things weren’t looking good. One agonizing hour later, I got a hold of Dr. Shah. He informed me that my MRI showed a suspect tumor on my distal femur. I knew right then that I had cancer even though the official diagnosis wouldn’t come for another week and a half.

I saw an orthopedic oncologist that Monday and had a bone biopsy on Thursday. After the surgery, the orthopedic oncologist informed my husband and parents that it was very probable that I had cancer.

I received the official diagnosis on Wednesday, March 11. Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Diffuse B Cell to be exact.I’m thirty years old. I’ve never had a cavity. In seventeen years of running I’ve never experienced anything worse than shin splints (and a dog bite). I drink organic milk. I ran the Boston Marathon. I once did a 5 mile race 9 months pregnant while pushing a toddler in a jog stroller. I thought people like me don’t get cancer. But they do and I did.

I’m starting to realize that this is just one of those random things that happen. It can happen to anyone, children, Lance Armstrong, me. I think I may play the lottery.

That said, I’ve already learned two important lessons.

First, listen to your body. I am so thankful I was running because it clued me in that there was a problem. I had no symptoms other running pains and would have never gone to the doctor otherwise. Who knows how bad things could have progressed?

Second, when you are injured make sure you see someone who understands runners. It would have been so easy for any run of the mill doc to misdiagnose me and tell me I was running too much and to back off. I am so thankful Dr. Shah knew what was normal and abnormal for runners and took an appropriate course of action.

I have an appointment at the Cleveland Clinic tomorrow, followed by presumably more tests. Once all the results are back a course of treatment will be developed.

1 comment:

Mama Simmons said...

I have chills reading your post. I'm a 35 yr old new mom... Triathlete for the past 14 yrs... Going on my 10 yr anniversary of being diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma. Like you, I felt totally healthy and had completed a 1/2 ironman 4 days prior to diagnosis. Was diagnosed at the Cleveland Clinic.
All I can tell you is that you're in for a wild ride. Your strength and attitude as an athlete will help tremendously.
If you'd like to chat at all more personally, my email address is michelle.simmons08 at yahoo. I know when I was going through it, I wanted to talk with other ATHLETES...
Wishing you the best...