Thursday, April 16, 2015

CancerBirthdary: 37, Off and Running!

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Marky told me back in October that the Ragnar Relay was on my CancerBirthdary this year. Meaning, it fell on April 10 and 11. I was diagnosed on April 10 2012 and my birthday is on April 11. While the timing seemed unfortunate at the time, I have a huge appreciation for it now. Somehow, it just seems appropriate to celebrate the fact that I'm still alive the day before I celebrate that I have life.

For the last few years I have celebrated my CancerBirthdary by rallying 5-10 friends to come climb halfway up Mt Baldy to the old green ski hut, stay the night there - celebrating by making stew on a wood-burning stove, drinking, playing cards, and relishing in the clear, noise-free, starlit sky. It has become an awesome tradition. This year it included rallying 14 people to come run a 30ish hour relay race with me.
A few of us at the hut a couple years ago
We did it right. We dressed as Richard Simmons, didn't take ourselves too seriously. We had experienced, well trained runners and brand spankin' new runners. We were separated into two vans, six runners and one driver in each van, each of us running anywhere from 10-23 miles. I was responsible for a whopping 16 miles (separated into 3 legs). 16 miles is not a problem for me, but I hadn't really run much in the past month - so it scared me. When I initially began my Leadville training I made a point to keep running during the week (because of a pesky little thing called osteoporosis, which I am now at high risk of because of that whole cancer/hysterectomy/aromasin/can't-have-estrogen-in-my-body thing - the impact exercises are super important) and I was running pretty fast and feeling pretty strong! Until I came home from Costa Rica feeling a lot more relaxed and interested in eating during lunch than running... So I was worried about my 16 miles (which turned out just fine).

One super cool part of the whole thing is that I was projected to run just after midnight on my birthday. I was really  hoping I would be able to start running around 11:30 and run (literally) into my birthday... but that's not the way it happened and I'm just fine with that. My second leg of the race started at 1 am on April 11, was 6.5 miles long and lasted exactly one hour. I listened to The Airborne Toxic Event (TATE) while I ran and thought the whole time (in a sing-songy voice) "it's my birthday... it's my birthday... it's my birthday..." Bring on 37! I can't imagine a better way to start it...

I'm so stinking happy to be alive. So thankful to have crazy friends to join me in an adventure like this. And - as always - grateful that my body continues to put up with me. Feeling stronger than ever and overwhelmed by the ability to do what I can, I'm ready to hit the trail for Leadville training.
Team Richard Simmons - in all our glory

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Leadville Training - Buildup to the Rwanda 50 Miler

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Alright so now that I've said that I'm going to track my training here, I'm actually going to try to track my training here.

I have been riding a little bit since I found out on Jan 15 that I was selected into the Leadville lottery. I have ridden 717 miles this year and accounted for 49,626 ft of elevation gain. That's kind of rad. But 717 miles doesn't sound like that many...

The Leadville 100 isn't a super technical course. It's a lot of fire roads and a little bit of pavement and a few technical sections (from what I've been told, anyway). The hard part of Leadville is the distance, duration, and altitude (again, from what I've been told). So this is what I'm training for. Long and not-so-slow hill climbing on not-so-technical hills. It's hard to train for altitude in SoCal... So I'm trying to add a few rides/races elsewhere to be able to anticipate what the altitude is going to do to me.

One of those races is the Fire Road race in Cedar City, Utah. It's 100k and starts at 5800 ft and climbs to 9500 ft, twice - with 7500+ feet of elevation gain. I feel like this might be a good gut check to see how training for Leadville is going. So really, I'm training for Fire Road.

In an attempt to train for Fire Road I've decided to do the Rwanda 50 mile ride here in the OC in April and starts at 800 ft and climbs to 1800 ft with 5,556 ft in elevation gain. I feel like this will be a good way for me to know how it feels to be on a mountain bike for 50 miles. So really, for now, I'm training for the Rwanda 50 miler.

I rode my brand new iron steed a couple weeks ago, the day after a 65 mile road ride. I figured it would be a great ride since my legs were mostly fresh (coming off a vacation to Costa Rica and a lot of laying in hammocks). I was stunned to realize that I didn't seem to have the muscle power in my legs that I'd had going into my Costa Rica vacation. I mean REALLY! It was awful! I kept having to get off the bike when I should have been able to ride! I brought up the rear for the entire ride which really causes a mental breakdown for me. I stayed off the bike for the week and tried to run (ah-hem, last minute training for my CancerBirthdary Ragnar celebration) and found my legs were REALLY beat up from Sunday's mountain bike ride. So I stopped running and decided to "wing it" for the Ragnar relay this weekend (I'm responsible for 16 miles of the race... should be interesting.)

On Friday I finally conceded to the constant nagging of my new mountain bike to take her out again. So I did, with a group of friends to a relatively easy trail. Again, my legs didn't have the muscle I'm used to, but this time because my legs were so fresh, I was able to make it up the big gnarly hill. I beat everyone up the hill because I couldn't seem to spin like I wanted. So I was mashing, up the hill. Still, blaming my legs for not doing what I was asking of them. I almost fell over when I finally got to the top of the hill, leaning on my handle bars, trying to find breath and looking at the ground when I realized that my chain wasn't anywhere near the big ring (the smallest gear) and also realized that it wasn't my LEGS that were the problem, it was the rear derailer!
Whiting, after I realized I still had my legs!

I took the bike to the shop to get the shifting situation sorted (which I now realize I can do myself) and took a day off before going back out. Sunday was my longest mountain bike ride ever... 32 miles, 4700 ft of elevation gain and quite possibly the best ride of my life. The bike makes me a beast of a climber and a much more confident descender. I know that time in the saddle is contributing to my improvement - but I'm still shocked at how great it went. I'm feeling really strong and really happy and pretty confident that I can handle the Rwanda 50 miler.



And there you have my first ever training write-up...

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Leadville Training

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Since my blog is so popular (no one is reading it), I've decided to document my training here (ah-hem...) I'm not very good at follow through when it comes to this space and I'm pretty sure my version of (coach-less) training will not be super impressive to anyone should they stumble to this place... but the idea of keeping track of my training here has a purpose... 

Here's the thing: Leadville is a big freaking deal. People hear I'm training for it and they look me up and down wonder how in the world I'm going to push this vessel to do 100 miles on a mountain bike at 10,000+ feet. So part of this is about my training, part of this is proving that I can do it, and part of it is about proving that anyone can do it. (Cause if I can do it, anyone can. I truly believe that.)

I started doing a little spin/core clinic at my favorite bike shop, Two Wheels One Planet about 5 months ago. It's been a great way for me to push myself in a different way and make sure I'm getting some core workouts in (I HATE strength training/core training/anything that isn't endurance training). I met Will there, the shop owner, who heard my story and took a liking to it. Will's response to my announcement that I was doing Leadville was the same as almost every other person (who knows what Leadville is): What are you going to ride? Ummm... I have a perfectly good aluminum 26" Specialized that I happen to LOVE and THAT is what I'll ride! After a lot of conversations with a lot of people and a lot of comparing the weight of my (heavy) bike to the weight of other people's (carbon) bikes... I gave in. 

Will was instrumental my bike purchase in a couple of ways...

1) He let me try different bikes. I'd only ever ridden my sweet stumpjumper (which I still love) - and had never experienced life on a 29er or a 27.5 or a hardtail or a carbon mountain bike. So for a few weeks I experimented with a few different bikes. It was probably the most important time in my 5 years of riding a mountain bike. I learned so much about my strengths and weaknesses and what I could expand on just with the purchase of a new iron steed. I have always been a better climber than descender, but a 29" hardtail carbon bike made me a beast on a long slow incline (hello, Leadville!). That being said, the 29" hardtail carbon bike also made me feel like I'd been in a car wreck. Like, for reals. Bones I didn't realize I had were hurting. Ribs hurt. Neck hurt. All the things hurt... After 18 miles. I could only imagine what I would feel like after 100 miles. Also, this fancy hardtail only had one chainring in the front, which made an amazing climber out of me on a long, slow incline, but I couldn't get it to turn on anything really steep... I needed more gears. 

So I went with a carbon 29" full suspension 2x (2 chain rings in the front - more gears, and the ability to get up steep hills, hopefully). She's a Giant Anthem. She's my second mountain bike, but the first one I chose and paid for myself. Together, we are going to make some amazing memories. 

2) Will hooked me up with an amazing deal on my new steed. He also hooked me up with a rack (until I can afford to buy the one I've got my eye on). 

3) The peeps at Two Wheels One Planet have also been instrumental in helping me achieve one of my new year's resolutions - to ride with groups. I've been riding with the TWOP group on Sunday's, swallowing my pride when it comes to tired legs and crappy descending skills and learning a TON. I'm getting better at this whole mountain biking on things other than a fire road thing. 

It's been a really rad, empowering experience to do all of this with nothing but my own motivation behind it (meaning, no male influences driving it). I've never had a shop treat me like I knew what I was doing, or treat me like I deserved to know what I'm doing. I am gaining confidence in the fact that I am a cyclist and quite frankly, I'm getting really strong on the bike. 

So there you have my first post on Leadville training that doesn't actually talk about training for Leadville at all. S'ok. more to come on that... 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Connecting (more) Dots

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Leadville

dot dot dot

Gianna

dot dot dot

Leadville.

(I hope.)

I wrote about Gianna in a post about two and a half years ago when I went to Leadville between my fifth and sixth chemo treatments, then again last year when I went to Annapurna - inspired by my dear friend who had become my light in survivorship. Proof that there was indeed life after the big C.

Not coincidentally (cause there's no such thing), Gianna died of  (recurrent) metastatic breast cancer while I was running the Annapurna Ultramarathon on March 1st of last year. Somewhere around mile 28 I sped off from the group I had been running with for at least the last 7 hours. I needed to feel the wind on my face and the pavement under my feet. My friends were upset that I would take off so hastily without an explanation. But I didn't really have an explanation until I got back to the hotel and realized that Gianna had died. We all agreed that she had come to visit me that afternoon, bringing me briskly to the finish line - as she would have done herself.

Leadville represents so many things for me. I was so, so sick when I was there. Unable to hike (what would normally be a no-brainer for me) halfway up powerline. It was so difficult to get me there that we decided it would be best to leave me there all day rather than bring me down for lunch and back up again for when the riders returned. So Virgie went to get us both lunch, leaving me and Tate on the mountain for almost 11 hours. When the riders did return to powerline, 80 miles into their 104 mile ride, they somehow breathed life into me with their encouragement for my pathetic, bald self even though clearly it should have been the other way around. It was one of the best days of my life. And so, before she found out her cancer had returned and before it got really bad, Gianna and I talked about doing it together one day.

To be healthy enough to actually consider participating in this race, to imagine actually riding down powerline (and then pushing my bike back up it 60 miles later) with all of those beautiful athletes, to bringing Gianna's spirit back to the race I'd met her at, to being able to give whatever light I have in me to a race and place that gave so much to me when I needed it most ... my heart is completely full.

I found out on January 15th that I was selected into the Leadville 100 MTB lottery. Training is in full force (except for this week as I'm galavanting around Costa Rica spending way too much time in the sun and drinking way too many gin and tonics). Post hysterectomy (and on new meds) I feel strong and healthy and ready to tackle this beast.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

New Construction

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I started this post two months ago. I couldn't get it all out at one time. Here is what I ended up with. I'm still not happy with it, but I need the finality of posting it so that I can move on. Also - it's long and I don't care. 


I feel like a broken record. I start and stop journal entries and blogs and updates and posts over and over again because I can’t figure out exactly what it is I need to say. I can’t convince my brain to concentrate for more than five minutes at a time and then when I start a blog/update/post with those same words, “I can’t figure out what I want to say or how I want to say it.” I get frustrated with myself and delete them. Nothing is original anymore and it all just feels like more blaaaah…. Life isn’t blaaaah but my writing sure is. It’s pissing me off. I’ve lost my muse and find it impossible to be smart with my writing anymore.

Sometimes (rarely), I find myself having really brilliant thoughts – but dangit, they’re gone before I even get a chance to realize they’re brilliant. So frustrating. I’m not sure what’s going on with my head or why I seem to be incapable of maintaining any focus. But beyond the inability to focus, the thing that really bothers me is that I feel like I don’t feel as much. I’m not sure if I’m depressed or if I’ve spent so much time trying not to feel out of self-preservation that I’ve become too good at it. Or maybe it’s the meds? What I do know is that I’ve got to get tapped back into that core of myself that used to be capable of expressing raw feelings… It’s part of the essential human experience for me. Life.

Life, right – it’s been interesting the last several months. I guess the reality is that it’s been going on for about 18 months, but I didn’t recognize it that way until I was catapulted out of the forest and had a pretty clear view of it from above without any trees blocking reality.

I wrote and posted about it before, but upon re-reading my post I decided I’d hate myself based on what I wrote there if I didn’t know myself. My goal is to be authentic and truthful without feeling sorry for myself. The reality that I’m learning as I read other blogs is that because we as humans don’t get to walk in each other’s shoes means that sometimes we are going to incorrectly perceive a bit of self-sorrow now and then.  Still, on reflection I found that the post didn’t reflect what I was feeling – so it’s gone-zo.

It’s really hard for me to be this honest and vulnerable because I’ve built my recovery on being positive and generating good energy. I’d prefer to pretend it isn’t happening, that I don’t feel sad or angry or confused, and that I am absolutely finding the “everything happens for a reason-ness” in this. But I’m not a very good faker.  Similar to the day I was diagnosed, I struggle. I don’t want to talk about it. I can barely write about it… I hardly want to admit it to myself, even in the darkest corners of my heart in the darkest nights when nobody is around. And so, I run from things or I chase things or do anything that will prevent me from feeling the feelings that lurk in the darkest corners of my heart in the darkest nights when nobody is around. I guess the upside is that I will be very fit (it is a pretty sweet upside!).

(Also, I've learned that sometimes a bit of self-sorrow is ok… maybe even appropriate.)

The Facts Without {much} Emotion:

I had triple positive breast cancer which, among other things means that my cancer that was fueled by both estrogen and progesterone. Because of that, I have been on a pill (Tamoxifen) that blocks the estrogen from my body. I've been on this pill for 2 years and am supposed to be on it for 10 (or maybe, forever?). Tamoxifen is very effective (imperative, for me) in preventing a recurrence of breast cancer which, because of my age and the stage of my cancer, is high(ish). Tamoxifen also has the propensity to increase my chances of developing uterine cancer (I think I’ve read it doubles or triples the chances, but that might be less because of my age, I’m not sure). Even still, the benefits of taking Tamoxifen far outweigh any risk of uterine cancer.

That being said, my doctors have been monitoring abnormal thickening of my endometrial lining for over a year now. Endometrial hyperplasia (which is what I had) can be a precursor to uterine cancer. In the past year I have had four pelvic ultrasounds, two uterine biopsies, a D&C and an abdominal ultrasound (just to monitor my uterus… this doesn't include other scans to rule out cancer in other places).

When my last ultrasound indicated that my uterine lining had again doubled after the D&C I had last March, my regular Gyn sent me to a Gynecologic Oncologist. After some discussion between her and I, and her and my regular oncologist, and me and my regular oncologist (to be covered in the “Emotion without {many} Facts” section of this update), we all decided it would be best for me to undergo a hysterectomy. I also requested my ovaries be taken since they (theoretically) produce estrogen (cancer fuel) and since I hadn’t had a period in 2.5 years (not functioning anymore, thank you - chemo) and since ovaries too can grow cancer (especially if you’re diagnosed young and have a genetic predisposition to breast cancer).

And so it was, the surgery took place on November 12. It was outpatient (which is as crazy as it sounds) – I came home that evening. As most people who have laparoscopic surgery will tell you, vast majority of the pain comes from the gas they use to pump you up to move around in there. Outside of that, my pain was in the first 8 hours after surgery, in recovery. Once we got the pain under control in the hospital, I hit the ground running.

Literally- 8 days after surgery I was running.

Here I am, almost two weeks out of surgery and I am almost 100%. Running almost full speed and at full distance. I haven’t been on the bike yet, but I am sure with far less impact in cycling, I will be just fine on the bike. All of this is great news seeing as I have some pretty lofty goals for 2015.

The Emotions Without {many} Facts:

Alright, so this was a massive blow to me. I haven’t been able to pull my emotions together enough to figure out exactly why – but of all the treatments and losses I’ve experienced in the cancer journey – this one hurt the most. Maybe it’s because my expectation was that I’d lost what there was to lose (short of life)? Or maybe it’s because I always thought in the waaaay back of my head that I’d be able to have some miracle baby. It’s definitely at least partly because I have always, always known that I would bear children. I (like every other girl growing up) had named them and figured out exactly how I would deliver and nurse and raise them to be strong and independent and vulnerable – of course, realizing that all of it would change when another party (baby-daddy) was added to the mix.
It feels so sudden, processing the fact that I will, for absolute certainty, not be having children – not my own, anyway.

But it’s not sudden. I have wondered for years whether or not I would actually get the privilege of growing a baby inside me. And over the past two and a half years (since I started treatment) my fertility has been a major question mark. I haven’t had a period since my first chemo treatment and definitely went through the gamut of menopausal symptoms in the year following treatment.  But even then, I didn’t allow myself to process the idea that I would not be able to have babies. And, to be fair – my doctors also held out hope that my reproductive system would recover.

As I contemplate it now, I probably didn’t allow myself to think about it then because I was probably unable to even begin to consider the finality of what was happening at the time. It was all too much and I think my subconscious way of dealing with it was to not deal with it. Or, more accurately, to deal with one loss at a time. So I did. First the hair, then the fitness, then the boyfriend, then the health, then the breasts, then the nipples, then the body as I used to know it… I processed my inability to recover like I once had and found a way to accept the edema in my legs and the fact that my hair, no matter what I tried, would not grow in thick enough to cover my head…  Ultimately, all of those things led up to me feeling like I’d lost the things that made me feel feminine.

Comments I've received from people in delivering this news indicate that they struggle seeing me struggle. “There’s always adoption, Stephanie! You can still be a mom.” Yes, it’s true. It’s just that easy… And their comments have forced me to reconcile what it is I’m really mourning. While I do find remarks a little bit (rash and insensitive?) difficult to swallow, they have a place in my emotional recovery. They've helped me to recognize that I am not mourning the loss of my ability to be a mother. Short of dying, my ability to mother was never on the table. There is something very special, intrinsically feminine about being able to grow a baby inside you. For me, it was never about raising my own children – since anyone who knows me is aware that I can love any child. It was about growing a life inside of me… It really pisses me off when people try to minimize that loss.

So it’s crushed me. I don’t feel it all the time. The waves of emotion come over me when I least expect them and I’m trying to find the best ways to deal with them. It’s like intermittent depression (which could be in part, due to the surgical onset of menopause at the age of 36 – which, by the way sucks bad). Just as the waves of brilliant thoughts and emotion roll over me, so do moments of clarity, of understanding why this hurts so much…

Treatment had an end. As far as I knew, I understood where the end of the race was and I understood the outcome: LIFE. Even though I really was very sick during treatment, I had hope for a future, health, life, etc… The outcome of this surgery is so definitive. Permanent. Painful . As much as I persevere and as much as I process any anger or sadness – I will never have the ability to bear children. I was born with the body parts and the potential to grow babies and now the body parts and the potential are gone. Forever.  Reconciling my love of children with the events of 2014 is a tough nugget for me. I’m working my way through it all, finding the good and giving the tough stuff the attention it deserves.

This whole process of surviving (breast) cancer is pretty wild. Poison, then reconstruction. Surgery, then reconstruction. Radiation, then reconstruction... all of it to get back to what I was before. But this feels different. We are reconstructing anything; there's no reconstruction of a fully operational reproductive system (and the life events that come with it). Since the goal is not to go back to where I was before, I've decided I'm calling it "new construction," and it's working for me. 

Here’s to hoping for a 2015 full of racing, health, laughter, friendships, and construction of the new normal. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Legacy

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Sooo... I'm not not writing because I don't have anything to say. I'm not writing because I don't know how to say stuff anymore. Specifically - I have a hard time saying stuff in the written word. This is frustrating to me because writing has always been the best way for me to get the extra junk out of my head. Maybe I need to practice more? Maybe any smarts leftover from chemo have been sucked out of me by the time spent watching America's Next Top Model? Probably.

Clearly, I just need to practice writing.

So ... I did Annapurna and then I went to Peru to climb mountains with 21 teenagers (11 girls from low-income areas of Florida and 10 from a village outside of Cusco, Peru), and then I went to Yosemite to hike and stuff and then I went to Colorado to emcee the Women's Leadership and Adventure Summit, and then I wen to Wisconsin to do the Racine 1/2 Ironman. All of it was awesome.

Do you see why I'm not writing much?

But really... I'm not writing because I struggle with how much truth to tell here (or anywhere). I want to be totally honest and unafraid of offending anyone or hurting anyone's feelings (which is totally stupid since NOBODY reads this blog anymore... which I kinda LOVE!) I don't want to be nego-nancy, but things are rough! Recovery is a rough process. (And - I swear to God, I am about to delete that last sentence because I realize there are people out there who will never recover and I should be GRATEFUL for this opportunity to recover... AGHHHHH. Sorry, I'm not deleting the last sentence. And I'm sorry to those of you who don't get to recover. I truly am. And I'm sorry to those that have lost someone who didn't get to recover. My heart breaks because of all of it and then I feel guilty for saying that it's rough but I honestly feel even more guilty for the way I feel. But I really am so grateful for the ability to run and ride my bike... Um... Hello, super freak! Do you see why I'm struggling???)

That being said - I refuse to write a blog post about all the things that are wrong. Which is why I haven't written.

I have been having really awful stomach cramps that cannot be explained. Like... seriously debilitating. So debilitating that they stopped me from mountain biking on a mountain biking trip! So debilitating that I started having migraines. Like, the kind of migraines where I can't see. I had two or three in a span of two or three days and that has never ever happened before so I called my oncologist and left a message... "I am having migraines and I just wanted to make sure you guys don't care about that."

So they care about that stuff. The big scary thing about breast cancer is recurrence... And my biggest fear is metastasis in the brain. Like... Seriously scares the shit out of me. So You can imagine what my reaction was when the oncologist called back and ordered me to get an MRI of my brain "stat." I had about 15 hours (cause he called me at 7 pm) between the time he called and the time I had my MRI. I had 15 hours to contemplate all of the things that come with the fear of mets to the brain.

What will I do if I have cancer in my brain? Will I have treatment? Or will I spend the last weeks/months/year(s) of my life living as fully as possible without the complications of chemo and radiation? What will I do with that time? Who will I see? What will my message be? Where willI go? What do I want to leave behind?

What do I want my legacy to be? Without a husband and children to leave a legacy with... I am on my own in creating the message I want to leave on this planet.

A lot went through my head. (Duh.)

I decided that I would see my family. Specifically, my nieces and nephews. I would spend my time with them. I would make sure they know that they are the most special of all humans on this planet. I would tell them to be secure in their amazing, beautiful selves. I would tell them that even their faults are special and specific to them. I would tell them not to be afraid. Of anything. I would tell them to travel. To connect with as many people as they could. I would tell them to to do anything and everything that makes them light up. Time is short. LIGHT UP. 

If I had enough time after communicating this message to my nieces and nephews, siblings, and parents, I would move on to my closest friends, then friends, then distant friends, then acquaintances and then perfect strangers.

What a gift, right? To have this ability (and associated fear) to contemplate my final message...

Well, to me it's a pretty rad gift. Mostly since I now know I don't have cancer growing in my brain. (Hi, big, fat, giant relief.)

But my message shouldn't change. I found it really interesting that in contemplating what I would do with the final days/weeks/months/year(s) of my life losing the 20 chemo lbs never even crossed my mind. Neither did racing another race (although climbing mountains was at the top of my list), or setting a PR on the bike, or ... Most of the things I spend most of my time thinking about.

So stupid.

So I'm changing some things. Working on the balance of being a responsible, contributing member of society with the perspective of understanding what (at this point, anyway) I want my legacy to be.

Also, I want to be more authentic here. I want to be less afraid of offending people (so please know, it's never my intention to offend anyone), I want to be secure in my amazing, beautiful self and I want to be more forward in communicating the shit that's rolling around in my coconut... Even (and especially) if no one's reading it.