Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Mile 7 of my Cancer Marathon

There’s one common personality trait among runners – we’re never satisfied. We’re always tweaking our training, nutrition, strength training, rest, gear, etc. in an effort to run faster and longer. Every time we toe the starting line we expect to run faster than before no matter the difficulty of the course, the weather, our lack of training or some other potentially limiting factor.

A perfect example is my good friend who I will call “Lisa”. Lisa ran her first half marathon in over 3+ years recently. She ran great and was only 3 or 4 minutes off her PR. She has spent 2 of the 3 past years not really running at all due to two high risk pregnancies and subsequent c-sections. Nevertheless, after the race she was bummed she didn’t break her PR.

This addiction to always doing more is not limited to veteran runners. A high school friend recently took up running. He wrote me after his first race: “[I started thinking after the race, what if] I had warmed up more or run harder from the start or started closer to the front of the pack and so on...a few hours later I was still thinking about it “

I think the addiction comes from the fact that there is no pinnacle of excellence in our sport. If a NFL player wins the Super Bowl and is named MVP, he drinks champagne until he’s silly and declares he’s going to Disney World. After the game none of the ESPN announcers talk about “If he had only thrown one more touchdown”.

Last summer, when Usain Bolt demolished the 100m world record and won Olympic Gold all the running press could talk about was how much faster he could have run had he come out of the blocks better/not let up at the finish line/had more training.

It doesn’t matter that you set a world record, you can always run faster.

The only thing Usain and I have in common is that I honeymooned in his homeland of Jamaica (anyone who has seen my sprinting speed, or lack thereof, can attest to that). Nevertheless, now that I’m off crutches and done with chemo side effects I’m totally in the “Gotta Do More” mentality again.

Each day I’m trying to add one more element of my old life back.

On the homefront, I’m back to taking the kids to school, making lunches, cleaning house and doing laundry. I’m not cooking quite yet but my family does not seem to mind. Hmmm.

Athletically, I’m growing gills from all my time in the pool. I got a book from the library on fitness swimming and I’m trying to do a harder workout each time I hit the water.

I’ve started lifting again. Upper body wise, I can do pretty much anything my scrawny arms will allow. Lower body I’m just sticking to Pilates because I’m not confident in my leg just quite yet.

As for cancer…

Last Tuesday I had a PET scan in the morning and met with my orthopedist in the afternoon. The ortho doc reviewed the latest PET and said it showed “significant reduction in suspect activity”. For those of us without the initials “M.D.” after our name, I believe this translates to “there’s a lot less cancer in there”. So that’s all good.

Of course I couldn’t leave his office without having the “Doing More” conversation. It went something like this:

Me: Now that I am off crutches what can I do?
Doc: What would you like to do?
Me: Everything including and not limited to swimming, biking, and running.
Doc: No.
Me: (Makes adorable pouty face that always let me get my way with my dad as a kid and later as an adult with my husband. Doc doesn’t budge – his heart is obviously made of concrete)
Doc: You can’t break your leg during the month you are on radiation.
Me: Oh, ok. I was planning on smashing my left femur with a sledge hammer but I’ll postpone it to next month. (Ok, I didn’t say it but I did think it)
Doc: So you can swim and stationary bike. No road cycling due to chance of falling. No running.

Oh well, at least I am now cleared to do one more thing (stationary cycling).


I met with the radiation oncologist who advised me I will be doing 22 treatments. Treatments are every day (M-F). Radiation can have some nasty side effects when done near vital organs. However, since I am doing a peripheral site they will be relatively minor – fatigue and skin irritation.

The preparation for radiation is pretty high tech. First, they give you a CAT scan and the doc outlines the treatment area on the computer. Next lasers come out of the ceiling and outline the area on your skin.

The actual marking of the skin is pretty low tech, however. The technician gets out a big ole green Sharpie and traces the laser’s path on your skin and the slaps a clear sticker on top of it.

So now I have 8 huge green X’s on my legs. Pretty sexy. For about a half second I thought about wearing capris until treatments were over. But then I thought: “Screw it. Cancer has been a big enough inconvenience as it is – I’m not going to go without shorts in the summer. If anyone is weirded out by it that’s their problem, not mine. I’m going to rock the shorty short/big green X’s look this summer!”

The actual radiation treatment is quite disappointing. You lay on the table and the techs line up the machine with your big green X’s. Then they leave the room and the machine makes some grunting noises and 2 minutes and 43 seconds later you are done. (Yes, I am a dork and timed it with the stopwatch feature on my Nike watch)

No light beams. No burning heat. No whirring machinery. Nothing. I thought the machine was broken the first time. Quite the let down.

So far my biggest complaint about radiation is that it’s inefficient. You drive 45 minutes to the Clinic, spend 10 minutes finding a parking space, 5 minutes walking to the room, 5 minutes to get dressed and wait to be called, and 5 minutes to get aligned correctly. Double that to account for leaving and we’re talking about 140 minutes of effort for 2:43 of treatment. Not a very good return on investment.

Nevertheless, I am glad that my biggest concern right now is that radiation is a waste of time :)

So, all is well in Carmenland. I’m looking forward to keeping doing more.

Never be satisfied.


The Salty One said...

This is such a great post and that goes beyond the whole Carmen is my hero for braving cancer thing :) Your insight into us obsessed runners is spot on. Of all my female running friends in particular, all of them are type A'a who have to go after what they want until they get it and for the one running friend I have who is not like that, mrp, he's an inventor type who likes trial and erroring his way to getting what he wants. Neat!

I hate when docs are all overly cautious too, but then again I suppose if they weren't and something like breaking your leg during radiation treatment happened we'd hate that a lot more!

Anonymous said...

Dude- GREAT post. I read it three times. Awesome.

As for the green marks - I've seen them and DO think they're sexy!! I still want to know though if you've taken pictures of them?