Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Gifts

I was so happy that I was finally healing up and was to be able to ski fairly normally last Friday and Saturday. The ugly suit time trial was a lot of fun and lots of people came out to show off their ugly suits. It was so nice to see so many friends and enjoy the day.

I was pretty bummed that I needed more surgery and would be starting over with recovery. Recovery from the first surgery was harder than I expected and I had more swelling and discomfort than expected. Plus I had fears of permanent problems that can happen when you have lymph nodes removed, which have not occurred. I really didn’t want to go through that again, but I knew that it had to be done so I just grit my teeth and bared it. It wasn’t nearly as bad this time, thankfully, since much less was removed than the first time. I’m sore and have some swelling for sure, but not nearly as much and I know more of what to expect so it’s less distressing. I feel like I’ve only regressed about a week in recovery instead of the full 17 days. I still need to wait for the lab results and make sure they got it all, but I’m hopeful that I’m done with surgery. The surgeon told be that 10-20% of his patients need a second surgery but he’s only had a few in 23 yrs. that he couldn’t get a clean margin with so that’s reassuring. I’m going to be more patient with healing and not try to do too much too soon this time. Having no snow and the holidays to keep me busy should help. I’m trying to think of this time as an opportunity to do some other things around the house rather than a time that I can’t exercise. Feeling like you can’t do something just makes me want to do it more. So I’m trying to get caught up with some stuff and hopefully do some sewing projects. Heck, maybe I’ll even get some skis prepped!

This season of giving has me reflecting on the many gifts I’ve received, mainly the gift of community and particularly the ski community. The support of all my friends has meant so much and helped me get through this stressful time. Feeling a part of the ski community was one of my objectives when I started training and racing again and this experience has shown me just how much a part of it I am. I hope that I contribute as much as I have received.

Peace to all and pray for snow!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Low Flying Hamster

Dear winter,
I miss you. Please come back.
Love,
Nate

Since the snow is not cooperating this year (dang did we get spoiled last year!), and all the races for citizen racers were cancelled, I figured that we needed to take things into our own hands and organize our own opportunity to go fast. So last Wednesday while sitting in my car in the pouring rain I called up Dave and proposed a time trial on the man-made snow of Elm Creek. Dave started spreading the word at practice that evening, an event was made on the Vakava facebook page (feel free to "like" us), and by Saturday morning we had a group of 40 to 50 skiers ready to knock the cobwebs off their racing muscles. This was made even more entertaining by Cheryl's idea to make the time trial an "ugly race suit" contest too.

When the start time rolled around everyone lined up and the race was on. I was lucky enough to have Bjorn Batdorf and Jon Miller show up, and the three of us soon formed a lead pack,and we traded off the lead every couple of kilometers. With about 1.5k to go in our 10k race I went to the lead to push the pace. The conditions were pretty soft and granular, and I figured if I could be in the lead going into the last uphill it would be hard to pass. This, in addition to a pretty ill-defined finish line, allowed me to just stay in front of a hard charging Bjorn. Jon came across another 5 or 10 seconds back.



The sprint to the finish


My dad was kind enough to stand around freezing while we raced. While were were doing our laps he did have the park police come up to him.


"You holding a race here?"


"Of course not."


"Did everyone line up and start at the same time and is it timed?"


"Yes"


"Did you charge money?"


"No, and anyone was welcome to join in"


I guess that was good enough for them, because they said ok and did not give us any more trouble, and my dad was able to write down a number of the finishers as they came across the line. As this was a self-timed event, many people also were able to find my dad or Dave after the race and get their results recorded, but the final "official" results found on skinnyski are still a bit thin - especially with finishers who were near the back of the race.


Most importantly, Cheryl and Dave Nelson were declared the winners of the ugly/retro suit contest by the crowd of people cheering on the race at the big uphill (led by Jon Millers mom). I think Cheryl knew that she had a "winning" ugly suit when she proposed the idea, but Angie's old FinnSisu race team warm ups could have given her a run for her money.





Angie




Cheryl





Dave


Vakava Racing results:
1st Nate
4th Anthony
6th Ryan
7th Dave C
15th Dave B
2nd Bonnie
4th Cheryl
5th Katy




Thursday, December 15, 2011

Change of Plans

I had planned on taking it a little easier this race season and do fewer races. I raced almost every weekend last winter and extended my season longer than usual with World Masters in March, and I felt like I needed a break. I did not anticipate how much of a break I'll likely need, however. In early November I was diagnosed with breast cancer, which pretty much changes everything. Needless to say, my training focus changed completely from racing to simply staying strong and healthy to help me get through treatment. I continued to train, but took things much easier. If I felt a bit tired, I backed off. There seemed no sense in tiring myself out needlessly. The original biopsy showed that I had caught it very early. The tumor was small, about 8mm, not aggressive, and a common more easily treatable variety which meant it was unlikely I'd need chemo. So that was all reassuring, but I had to wait 3.5 weeks for surgery when we would truly know the extent of disease and confirm the course of treatment. The waiting was brutal.

I found out the morning of our weekly team practice. I knew I had to go since exercise is my best stress reliever. I was very teary when I told my teammates, but they were incredibly supportive. (One of the many benefits of team membership. :-) I only told them, my husband, my mother, and my boss at work. I didn't tell my extended family, children, or other friends because I wanted to maintain a sense of normalcy and not have everyone on pins and needles around me. My teammates were great. I could talk about it to them, but it was never dwelled on and I was able to enjoy practice and talk about other important things like life and skiing.

I was a wreck the days before surgery. The morning of I was pretty calm. In many ways it was like ski racing. I get terribly nervous right before the race but that all goes away the second the gun goes off. Same with surgery. Plus you feel like you have to pee constantly even though you just went and you get a plastic bag with your name on it to put your clothes in. The day was very long because of a surgery backup at the hospital and the various procedures I had to do before surgery. The surgery was a lumpectomy and included what is called a sentinel node biopsy. Cancer in lymph nodes is a good indicator that it may have spread and so requires more treatment. To find that out, they remove a couple nodes and look at them. You have lots of nodes in your armpit and they try to figure out which nodes cancer would travel to first and only check those instead of taking them all. To do that they inject you with a radioactive fluid and then get an x-ray to see which nodes suck it up first. They also inject you with a blue dye and see where that goes. The nodes it goes to first are the ones any cancer cells floating around would also go to. So if those are clear, you're clear. All that took several hours getting wheeled around to various departments for the various things. The worst part was that I couldn't eat and my stomach was so empty I almost felt nauseous. It's hard for someone who eats like a hobbit (as my husband likes to say) to go that long without food. Then it was time to get the IV and prep for surgery. I spoke to the anesthesiologist and made sure he knew that I normally had low heart rates since I'm an athlete so he wouldn't freak out. (Low 50's is not uncommon and I've even seen it in the upper 40's.) He said as long as it was stable he didn't care what it was. He also knew that athletes don't need as much to put them out because of high metabolism. (Most athletes I know are light-weights with alcohol for that reason.) The surgery itself went fine and they sent me on my way. The fun thing about the blue dye is that it turns your boob bright Smurf blue and you get to pee like a Smurf for several hours.

Recovery from surgery was more difficult than the surgery itself. I'm not good at being laid up. I had a fair amount of swelling that was very uncomfortable, especially around the incisions, which were tight and the swelling made it feel like I had a rope around my armpit. I’d never had surgery before and had no idea what to expect, plus I had fears of long term problems that can happen when you take lymph nodes out. Was told that I should be able to resume normal activities a few days after surgery, but I’m not sure what is normal for me is what they had in mind. I tried skiing 4 and 5 days after surgery and probably did too much, but I was so anxious to get out and do something. I felt fine at the time but had a lot of swelling and discomfort afterwards. I was told that it was probably due to the exercise because it increases circulation and the fluid can’t leave that area as fast as it enters yet. I didn’t know when I’d be able to comfortably ski again and I was distraught at this because it’s really hard to go without my best stress reliever during this stressful time. After seeing the doctor about it he said that the swelling wasn’t a problem in itself and I should do whatever I comfortably can. That reassured me at least and I tried to be patient and waited another week. I went easier this time and seemed to feel ok the next day. So I’m back out, if not working as hard as I’d like to be. The doctor commented that the women like me that complained the most of slow recovery were all athletes and he thought they had higher expectations than most. I’m sure that’s true. I’ll bet there are plenty of people out there that are happy to have an excuse to lie around for a couple weeks and wouldn’t notice or care if they didn’t regain 100% function, but I am not one of them.

I got the lab report back from surgery and there was good news and bad news. The good news was that the nodes were completely clear of cancer so no chemo will be needed and we won’t need to radiate the nodes in my armpit which can cause additional side effects. The bad news was that there is still a little cancer left and I need another surgery to get it out. So I go in on Monday to do it. It’ll be a quicker procedure using the same incision and local anesthesia, but I’ll be starting over with recovering from surgery and swelling and whatnot. Plus that means that I can’t start radiation treatments until January. Not great, but it is what it is and I’m better prepared this time.

All this started just before Thanksgiving and I kept thinking how grateful I was that I had good insurance and could afford the co-pays because there are so many that are not so fortunate. Radiation treatment alone can cost $20,000. A woman I grew up with had breast cancer several years ago and started a non-profit to help women pay for it. Check it out http://www.payitforwardfund.net/.