Friday, December 27, 2013

Running and Reality

When you last heard from me, I promised to post explaining the joyous occasion of my first braless run. On October 30, three weeks and two days after flatty-flattening surgery, I laced up my sneakers and jogged 3.12 miles along the Erie Canal trail. However, I didn't blog about it because reality got in the way.

A week prior to that, my friend and fellow runner Mary had taken her 3-year-old to the pediatrician with a fever and tummy ache and within 24 hours was a mother of a child with cancer. As I jogged and tried to analyze whether my unsupported chest was jiggling at all*, my mind kept being drawn back to Mary. She has always followed this blog and commented with wonderfully supportive and encouraging words. I could imagine that she'd have been one of the first to "like" my braless run post and would have smiled a little and thought of me as she pulled on her sports bra the next day for her run.

Suddenly, my run was irrelevant. Mary and her family would be facing surgery, chemo, radiation, and a lifetime of worry about a beautiful little boy. I couldn't sit down and write a whimsical post.

It's now been more than two months of silence on my blog. Life has been moving on for both Mary and me. Her son has one less kidney, 8 radiation treatments under his belt, and no hair due to his ongoing weekly chemo infusions. I accepted a challenge from another friend, via Runner's World, to run at least a mile a day each day between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. But again, I have to default to what matters and write about cancer and not me "streaking".

As much as childhood cancer (and all cancer) sucks, and I cannot pretend to know what it's like to watch a child go through what I did, the "Best Breast Cancer Ever" has put me in a unique position. I've been there. Quite recently, in fact. Although I still sometimes sit in front of my computer screen trying to figure out what in the world to say to Mary, I hope I can make her feel less alone in this cancer reality. I can give her specific hints or time my well-wishes based on my experience. Honestly, I'm paying it forward. My friend Lisa in North Carolina somehow always knew the right thing to say during my treatment, as she'd been there long before I was.

While Mary is still living this active cancer treatment lifestyle - going through the motions of everyday life while working chemo infusions into the family's schedule - I'm in a bit of a post-treatment limbo, which brings me to a second reality story.

There are many other women who had/have breast cancer and choose to blog. Seriously, there are thousands of them. When I first started googling to find women who had been through what I experienced, I found an abundance of blogs where the writer is stage 4 - incurable (metastatic) breast cancer. At first, I avoided them because they are the scary reality of what I may experience someday. But once I finished treatment, I felt I had to educate myself and learn from these women.

One of the most popular stage 4 bloggers is a woman with an elementary school aged son who had a similar diagnosis and treatment to mine. She finished her 5 years of tamoxifen and breathed a sigh of relief that she'd passed that arbitrary milestone. Soon afterwards, an old injury of hers (I think a broken rib or something) started bothering her. She didn't think much of it but mentioned it to her doctor who did some precautionary scans. She was shocked to find out that her breast cancer was back, this time in her bones and lymph nodes.

Upon reading her story, I vowed to take everything about my body seriously, and I just had my first experience to find out whether my oncologist will do the same.

My whole adult life, I've had monthly migraines (you know which time of the month, right?) that can be as bad as 7 or 8 on the pain scale. They occur on the right side of my head and can usually be controlled with Excedrin-the-wonder-drug. In early December, I started each day thinking I was getting that headache. It was always on the right, but always dull. By mid-day, I'd be surprised that the headache never progressed beyond a 2 or 3 on the pain scale. For two weeks, this happened every day, and I was feeling lucky that I hadn't had a bad migraine.

Last Friday, I suddenly thought more about these, ahem, lucky migraines. Every day for 2 weeks? My goodness! It must be a brain tumor! By the end of the day, I noticed that my right ear was clogged as well! That tumor must be huge! And Google confirmed that the 4th most likely place for breast cancer to metastasize to is the brain! I went to bed on Friday night with a full-blown migraine.

This Monday, I called Dr. Kirshner, who DID take me seriously. Actually, I never had to speak to him. I called and left a message with the nurse, and within hours I was scheduled for a brain MRI on Thursday morning. (It probably would have been sooner but there was that whole Christmas thing in between.)

I'll skip over the three days more days of analyzing how bad this tumor was and planning how long I have left to live, and report with the exact words the nurse said on the phone about an hour after I left the MRI center: "MRI looks great. Nothing going on in there." (Celebrate the news and then giggle with me that she was actually referring to my brain. Hahaha!)

Despite the fact that I'm usually the most rational of people, my new reality is that I have to be this ridiculous and call the oncologist about a minor headache. Everything is serious, or can be. This is how Mary will be thinking about her son, too. That's the reality for a cancer patient.

* Now about that run: I only noticed the braless thing for the first 10 steps or so. Nothing was jiggling since there's nothing there to jiggle. What I DID notice is that my tummy jiggles when I run. I'm sure it always has, but the large bouncing breasts always distracted me from noticing. Now, I have found that I want to suck in for my whole run to prevent tummy bounce. Probably good for my abs, huh?


  1. Hello Shari,

    Cancer doesn't discriminate... You can be from any nationality, any sex, any colors and sadly any age, when it strike you, it strike you! I can't even imagine what Mary must be going through... It is such an unjust fight.

    This is my not-a-professionnal opinion but I would not be surprise if your migraine are at the same pain level as before but now you have such a higher degree of pain tolerance that you feel like it is not as bad. I think only time would make you less stress about health issues but for the first 5 years period, caution is the golden rule.

    By the way, my wife as the same cancer as you got, we are anxiously waiting for the pathology result. I was surprise to read that you are on a hormone med, our surgeon told her to stay away from any thing that has hormone.

    We are still learning about this enemy but I can tell you that reading your blog is a must for any one dealing with breast cancer, and keep your great sense of humor, it is so refreshing. Thank you!

    Keep on smiling you cancer beater :)

    1. Hi Richard. Thanks for reading and for your encouraging words.

      My cancer is estrogen and progesterone receptor positive, which means that my cancer cells grow on estrogen/progesterone. I take tamoxifen which *blocks* estrogen from bonding with anything, hopefully preventing any more cancer cells from growing. Your wife would not want to be taking estrogen, but I assume she'll get a blocker like I have if she, too, is E+/P+.

  2. Glad your doc is taking you seriously Shari. Health anxiety sucks...but getting it checked out quickly is both prudent and hopefully will put things to rest for you.

  3. I thought of you and chuckled yesterday or rather I thought of your jiggling stomach as I ran yesterday. I found the queen of all jogging bras - no jiggles - but unfortunately it doesn't stop the stomach jiggle - only cutting out my sweet tooth and increased exercise might do that for me. :-)

    I liked Richard's description of cancer survivors - you cancer beaters you! Keep up the good fight and keep writing, you are an excellent writer.

    Mary, if you are reading, I think of you and your son, and am wishing you both peace and strength to keep it all together. As a mom you are probably utilizing your endless strength and determination to get through this and wish I could send you some during the low level times. Peace