Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A year ago... Ironman St George - May 7th 2011

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(Update on my angel in the blue shirt to follow this post...)

Up earlier than I wanted to be by the rustling around in the kitchen… 3:30 came about 45 minutes earlier than expected. Up, dressed, eating. Teeth brushed. Ready. In the car. On the shuttle (bus) – for the 25 minute ride to the start of the race. Pitch black. The bus driver hilarious. Energy abounded. People either chattering too much or too silent … and either way, adrenaline poured from us.

Arriving at the start, entrance only granted with the blue bracelet that would mark me as an “athlete”… 

To the bike. To my bike gear bag to check once more that everything I need is there. Added salt to the bag. Went back to the bike, pumped tires. Port-a-potty… bike. Checked brakes. Walked around… talked to those in the group. Took pictures. Back to bike. Everything is still there. Fluids good. Brakes still work. Ok.

Wetsuit. Cap. Goggles. 

Where are my parents?

Wetsuit. 

John took over. He guides me to a spot on carpet where we sit for a little while. Checking my phone, where’s my family? Where’s Dan? 

John: “Put your wetsuit on.” Oh… right. Ok. Wetsuit on. Not easy. So tight. Phone rings. My mom and dad and the entourage are there. Finally. I give my bag to the guy. The last time I’ll see it till this day is over. Grab my pump, cap, goggles, and phone and go to find my family. 

They look at me like I’m crazy. I feel a little crazy. Pictures, laughter. Ready. 

The pro’s are gone. I have to get in the water. We aren’t moving fast enough. I have to pee. I can’t wait. I pee in my wetsuit. Ha. 

The gun goes off. I still can’t see the water. I run in. I try to swim. I can’t breathe. 200 yards out I stop. I can’t put my face in anymore. I need a minute. How can I do this for 2.4 miles? 

I hold the board with the beautiful girl paddling along. She tells me she won’t let me drown. That I’ve already started. I’ve already gone so far… keep going. So I do. God bless that girl. Finally, breathing every stroke, I get rhythm. And then, I find it every third stroke. I am passing people. Catching up with myself. Ok. I will be ok. 

In the water I can hear people talking and it bugs me. Where is that coming from? Who can talk and swim? Then I realize it’s the announcer calling people’s names as they exit the water. Oh, I’m so close. This beautiful swim has almost come to an end. 

Out of the water, up the boat ramp. Feeling great. Reminds me of the California half. Wetsuit stuck. Two people run to me and literally tear it off. “Lay down!” Ok… and bam… I felt naked. 

“RUN!!!” I hear the announcer call my name. I can’t believe I’m doing this. To the bike bags, to the dressing room. I sit. A lovely woman takes all of my gear out of the bag and starts putting my socks on. She talks to me… “Arm warmers?” Oh god, no. “Is this your first Ironman?” Yes. “Wow, you are so amazing!” My typical response: well, the day’s not over yet! She was great. Socks, shoes, gloves, sunglasses, helmet… out of the tent to sunscreen. 

She missed my face. “Can you get my face???” I’m sure I had snot coming out of my nose. Woops… sorry, lady! I thanked her. 

Ran down the carpet where another amazing volunteer was holding my bike. Up and over. Moving.

My family waited in the “bike out” chute. Screaming and shouting “GO… Steph… GO!!!”

The first 20 miles of the bike were slow and slightly hilly. Immediately, a headwind. I passed my first aid station. Took it in. I understand. Grabbed water, drank as much as I could. Tossed. 

30-35 miles in… to a place I recognized. The field in front of the Morris’ house to my right. Looking for my family. I don’t see them. They weren’t able to get out of the T1 area fast enough. People are screaming my name. There they are, the Morris family, with a sign made especially for me.  What a treat. I glow from the inside out. Yell and wave at them. 

It gets hot. And hillier. I try to take as much as I can at the aid station. I begin to suffer. Around the big red mountain we go. Hotter, still. Up, up, up. I begin to know the cyclists around me. We talk about the heat. The hills. Someone explains the next four hills to me. It helps. I have something to count. My stomach is upset. 

I prepare my head. Better. Ok. 

“The Wall” – reminds me of GMR. But shorter. A long switchback. Ok. I got this. 

My head was wrong. I thought downhill followed the wall. No. Another climb, straight into the wind. Ack. I’m losing time. Losing my head. I need a bathroom. Diarrhea. I want to barf. I would feel better if I barfed. 

Finally, the downhill I craved. Headwind, but downhill. Thank the lord.  Loop 2 followed the downhill. Finally, an aid station. Port-a-potty. Family waiting. I tried to smile. I wanted to throw up. I laughed at them, their sign, the bells, and whistles and screaming. It couldn’t help but bring me joy. 

Loop two: Suffering. Water. More water. The kids want to spray me. Most cyclists are too cool or too serious or too stupid to accept. I do. So fun. The four of us giggle while I cool off. Gatorade. I try to muster the power bar down my throat. I can’t. I barf. Relief. 

The “four hills” again. I prepare my head. Even with all the gas I have, I may not make it. I prepare myself for the conversations where I explain why I didn’t make it. I accept it. 

“The wall” again followed by the climb out of Veyo. I cry. I want off the bike. I’m not tracking miles as progress, just trying to make them fast enough to be able to run. But… I don’t want to run. 

Maybe I won’t make it. Oh please. Let me miss the cut-off. 

Oh please. Let me make the cut-off. I wrestle. 

I make the cutoff. The girl laughs at me as she takes my bike. Someone is yelling at me “two minutes!” hu? I run. “Get in the tent!”…  I’m there. I sit. 

Five beautiful blonde haired blue eyed innocent 14 year olds help me. They put sunscreen on me. Vaseline on my lips. Shoes. “Arm warmers?” Oh God, no. I start to leave. 

“Wait! Was there a visor in that bag???” No. No visor. “Oh, I thought for sure I packed a visor.” Then she looks… my good luck charm, under the chair. “Is this it?” 

YES!!! Thank you! Visor on. Watch ready. I cross the mat. 

26.2 miles to go. 

The first few are very, very slow. 15 minute miles. I will not make it. My family sees me. They are worried. They know. I’m not well. I try taking as much water, Gatorade, and gu as I can. I take salt and ibuprofen.

Mile 4. I find my angel in the blue shirt. “I will never make it.” He cries. He explains his biggest regret – a DNF in a 100 mile race. “You have to come back, for me.”

Ok. I look in his eyes. He is serious. So am I.

Like a switch. The outside energy comes in. I have life again. I will finish.

That moment marked the switch. From there, I lit up. Energy out- Energy in. Cheering on my fellow runners. Cheering on my volunteers. Giving them what I could. “Thank you” “Good Job” “Good Luck” salt, smiles… whatever I could. And with every step, more energy.

Family- all smiles on the return for mile 13. Clean energy. They knew. I would finish. I explain, “I’m running the downhills, walking the uphills as fast as I can.” Jared: “I will walk with you when you come back.”

Mile 13, 8:00pm. 4 hours to finish 13 miles. I have it. I walk fast. 12 minute miles. Jared joins me. He is so proud. His face is beaming. So grateful for my brother. So proud of his pride.

The sun descends, the stars appear. Heaven becomes more clear. Stronger. Happier. Energy, energy, energy. Lighting up the world.  

Multiplication in my head… minutes per mile. Finishing. I got this. I got this. Volunteers start telling me I’m an Ironman. “Not YET!!! But I will be!” I am passing people. “You go girl!” I’m one of very few still jogging.

Mile 22. Angel in the blue t-shirt waits in the middle of the street “Is that my girl!?!?” I run to him and hug him. “I WILL FINISH BECAUSE OF YOU!!!” And then quietly… “You changed my life today. Thank you so much.” He cries again and tells me to go find the finish. I start to run off. People at the aid stations on both sides of me start to cheer. Energy out, energy in.

I can hear him… Mr Ironman… Yelling… bringing in the finishers. And then, I see him.

I look behind me. Nate, a friend I made on the bike from the Navy, is behind me. He won’t catch me. I will barf at the finish line before he catches me. I sprint. Mom wants me to stop for a picture. I smile. I move… high fives. I hear my name. I look up. 15:59:37.

Ironman.

Pretty cool.

Two volunteers. They worry. I sprinted. My heart is too fast. I bend over. Squat for a second. “Do you need medical?” No, I just need my heart to slow down. “Well, you’re in the middle of the chute.” Oh, do you want me to move? Ok… I move. They put the medal on. Wrap a space blanket around me. It’s too hot. I take it off. Water. Picture.

“There’s pizza in the tent ahead, I will walk you there.” Ok.

But then, my family. My daddy with his arms stretched out. Waiting. My mama crying. The rest of them glowing. Energy out, energy in. Pictures, laughter. 

This is an awful picture of me, but the way my dad's arms are reaching out to me is so priceless. Brings me to tears every time I see it. 

Pizza, goodbyes.

Back to the finish. Cheering on the last finishers. Dancing. Singing. So happy.

Massage. Bike, bags and back to the hotel for beer.

24 hours later, back in bed with sore toes – on cloud nine.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Once Upon Another Time

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Before I knew which life was mine
Before I left the child behind me
I saw myself in summer nights
In stars lit up like candle lights
I'd make my wish
But mostly I believed...
There was a period of time between the day I found out I had a malignant tumor and the day I found out exactly how bad the cancer was. It is, as they call it (whoever "they" is) - the "waiting game." During that time - a period of five or six days, I was convinced that I was going to die. That the cancer had spread way too far in my body, that I'd waited too long.

My reasoning: I was afraid I'd done too much too quickly in the short life I'd lived. Not to pretend I'm exceptional, but until that day on April 10th, I'd been in control of my choices. I would make a decision and then find a way to follow through with it. In so many ways, I've been so lucky to do the things I've done. Gifts upon gifts... Life.

If anything, people find me annoying because I have too much life. ADD, ADHD, whatever. Always going, talking too loudly, singing, running around without shoes on, blurting opinions, wearing my heart on my sleeve - exuding life to an obnoxious extent (some would argue). For those five or six days before I got official news about the cancer, I was sure that I'd used up all the life in my life too quickly.

I didn't know what it felt like to be void of life until two weeks ago. The day after the day after they put the poison into me via needle and bags of fluid. I didn't realize I was so delicate. When I struggle, I struggle fiercely. I fight, I punch air, I scream and yell and swing my arms. It's not pretty, but it's life. Fierce life. Not death. This is different. From the inside out, I was dying. Life drifting from me, almost literally as my fingertips, lips, and tongue lost the ability to feel. The general "disconnectedness" from life, my body, and everything in between is foreign to me. How did I become this girl?

Certainly I didn't choose this.

And then...

The feeling in my fingers and lips and tongue come back, but my hair goes and takes with it a certain identity I didn't realize I had. Even today, I run my hands past my head to put my hair "back up" and realize it's not there. It shouldn't bother me so much. It's not my identity. But when it goes away I realize that it's been attached to me as long as I can remember. And really, it was pretty important to me, even though I never had good hair. So it's gone. It's not a short haircut. It's gone. It will be years before I have a ponytail again.

It does break my heart. And I realize, I'm slightly delicate. There's nothing to punch. When did this happen? How? Where did I go? Africa, Asia... and ... Chemo? I punch and punch and punch. But I can't hit anything.

Chemo: cough syrup for cancer? Cough syrup for "life?" Stealing life to give life... a strange concept. But then... "The only piece of advice that continues to help is that anyone that's making anything new only breaks something else."
For me: whether I wanted my old life or not, it seems as though new life is not optional. With no home, no job, no hair, new boobs on the horizon and a general uncertainty in every aspect of my life - I am learning to accept that a new life is in order.

The old life was pretty lovely, but she seems so distant these days. Eventually I will stop asking myself what happened to that strong, beautiful girl and accept this version of myself, a woman now - I suppose. All grown up.

But then, about 10 days later strength comes back, the struggle fades, and I start to feel a little bit like myself again. I run the beach, the trails, I swim, I climb my mountain. I am almost back... until the next round. And it continues. 
And there you have the Ferris wheel that is chemo (for me). I have seriously struggled with what to put up here. I've written at least 7 drafts to get me to this point, and really - it doesn't tell you anything about cancer - where it is or what my treatment is or what happens next.

Suffice to say - life continues for me in a form that I cannot even conceive. I don't want this to be a blog about cancer and details about what medicines they're pumping into me or how many rounds of chemo I will have or what the side effects are, or how bad surgery is, or blah blah blah blah... So many people write blogs about that stuff.

I want this to be a blog about life. Clearly, I don't have a great grasp of that right now... but I'm trying. I take my good days and my victories as they come.

I have to say - the most amazing part of all of this is the incredible amount of love and support I've received from my family and friends. It has been endless and overwhelming to me. If you're reading this, you support me and it has made all the difference.


PS - It's a little weird. But I actually kind of enjoy being bald now that I've gotten used to it. Go figure!

Monday, May 14, 2012

1 month later...

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I knew it would happen...














But had no idea what it would feel like.

More to come. I've got at least four half-written posts waiting for some love. ;-)