About this blog

I was diagnosed with breast cancer on June 11, 2010. As a result of my treatment, I have lymphedema in my left arm. I draw my strength from the Lord, as well as my family's Scots-Irish heritage. Our Graham's were a tough and scrappy bunch of fighters on the Scottish/English border. They came to America and continued to fight when necessary: in the American Revolution; the Civil War; and my brother is a Captain in the U.S. Army. My ancestors settled this country against all odds. My great-grandmothers on both sides of the family were pioneer women who settled the West. Along with that heritage, and the full armor of God, I am walking the walk and fighting the good fight.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

I am a runner

I am many things.  A daughter. A wife. A mother. A child of God. A lawyer. A survivor. Today, I can add something to my list.

By the grace of God, I am a runner.

This morning, I got out of my hotel bed at 4:26 a.m. in order to get outside and stand in line for 45 minutes with 11,000 other people to run 13.1 miles.  At about 5:45 a.m., we got moving. Sound nuts?  A few years ago, I would have heartily agreed. I remember when a friend of mine began running half marathons a year or so ago. I couldn't believe she could run 13+ miles at one time. It blew my mind. Last May, she challenged me to run the Tinkerbell half marathon at Disneyland. I took her up on it.

I logged over 213 miles since the 3 Day last November training for my first half. I had no idea what to expect. My last long run was over a week ago. My last easy run was 3 miles on Thursday. Then I took 2 days off of exercise completely. (Unless you count walking around Disneyland all day yesterday as exercise!)  I was getting similar "gut checks" that I would get late in pregnancy before going into labor. The feeling of...."Oh my gosh....can I really do THIS?"

Got our bibs...we're ready!
Mom, Isabelle and I drove up to Anaheim on Friday afternoon to pick up our race packets and check into our hotel, the Paradise Pier at Disney. Isabelle was registered to run the kids 1 mile race on Saturday morning. She killed it. She ran it in 9:26 and didn't even break a sweat. We spent the rest of the day at Disneyland. We had a great time, but it was a bummer that my mom had a broken arm and couldn't do most of the rides.

Other than walking around Disneyland, I did pretty much everything "right" yesterday to prepare. I drank a lot of water. I abstained from alcohol. I had some pasta for dinner, but not too much. I got to bed at a decent time. This morning when I woke up before the crack of dawn, I ate a hard boiled egg white that I had brought from home, carefully refrigerated in one of my kids' lunch boxes with cold bags, a banana, and some of my green tea. I got dressed, laced up, and was ready to go.

There was no question of where to line up once we left the hotel. The street was packed with literally thousands of people, mostly women, walking in one direction. We just blended in with the rest of them. I was supposed to line up in corral "B," which was the second of 5 corrals that would send runners out in waves. There were lots of cute costumes: fairy wings; princesses; Peter Pans; etc. I was all business. This was my first half, and I wanted to wear something that I had road tested on a long run! Mom and Isabelle had to leave me pretty quickly, the corrals were for "runners only."

As I stood there shivering in the dark, a lady next to me reached into a baggie and threw some glittery confetti on me, saying it was "pixie dust" for good luck. I told her that was great, I needed it, because it was my first half marathon. We got to talking during the 30 minutes we were waiting for the race to begin.  Leslie is a veteran runner: 38 years, 9 marathons, and other races under her belt.  We chatted about lots of things, I told her a little bit about my coming to running, the cancer, the 3 Day, and so on. As the race time approached, she suggested that we run together since she didn't have her music with her. I said that would be okay, but she shouldn't feel obligated to stick with me if she wanted to go faster. My target pace was going to be around 11 minute per mile. She had mentioned that hers was going to be 10. Besides, I have never run with anyone before, and I didn't know how I would like it. It could be good, but it could be bad too. It wasn't something I had "tested out" before to know how I would like it.

So we started out together. I had my Garmin on, so I could tell what our pace was. The first mile we took really easy at 11:18, warming up and finding our place on the road.  The course was great, especially the parts when we were running through Disneyland. It was daybreak, the sun was just beginning to turn the sky from dark, but the park was alive.  But empty from all people other than the runners. As we looped around the various areas, they would have the appropriate music playing. Like the theme from "Sleeping Beauty" as we ran through the castle, or country music playing when we ran by Big Thunder Mountain. Of course, there were characters everywhere. Many runners would top and wait in line to take pictures with them, but we didn't stop. In Fantasyland, King Arthur's Carosel was spinning, and the Lost Boys from Peter Pan were on them shouting and waving at us. It was so cool!

After running the park, the route took us through Downtown Disney, then out to parts of Anaheim. In the town, it wasn't as scenic. But there were a ton of people lining the streets to cheer us on.  About 50 women in red hats and purple clothes; high school marching bands and cheerleaders; family members with home made signs; a troupe of hula dancers; even a U.S. Army band with soldiers in their BDUs! It was amazing.

My new friend and I stuck together. I actually really enjoyed having someone with me.  It was so great to have this experienced runner take me under her wing (fairy wings?) and show me the ropes. As we ran along, she gave me tips about where on the road to run and so on. About 5 miles into the race, she said to me, "You are a runner."  I would ask her questions about recovery time and training for the next race and she would say, "You don't need me to tell you...you are a runner."  But then she told me anyway!  At one point around mile 10 she stopped to use the porta potties and told me to keep going, she would catch up with me. I did, and she finally did catch up. I'm glad she did, becasue that time alone started to allow my mind to wander and focus on the little discomforts that were starting to pop up.  We talked about other things too: our families; health histories; careers; etc.

My new friend and I at the finish!
For the last 2 miles led us back into Disney areas. The race wound through Disney's California Adventure, both backstage and through the park. I was feeling great. Our pace had been picking up throughout the race-we were in the low 10's for most of the race. When we passed the mile 12 marker in California Adventure, I said to Leslie, "Wanna pick it up a bit?"  We ran that last mile at 9:28.  We saw mom and Isabelle cheering us on right before the 13 mile marker. We were almost there! Was it over already?  When we saw the finish line, Leslie urged me to sprint. For the first time ever in a race, I had it in me to do just that. I went as all out as I could. I crossed the finish line in victory! I introduced Leslie to my mom and Isabelle at the finish and she was so sweet to tell my mom about how I was the one to urge us to go faster at the end.

My final time was 2 hours, 17 minutes and 59 seconds. My average pace was 10:20 according to my Garmin.

It was so much fun. I can't believe that I did it and felt so good. Now as I write this several hours later, I do feel the after effects. The back of my legs right above the knees is a bit sore, and I'm sure I'll be sore tomorrow.  But I did it, and I did it well.  My goal was to be under 2:30. I had no idea if that was realistic or not.  Now that I have a PR, I can try to beat it at my next race in March.  I don't know if I can, but I'll sure give it a try.

Because I am a runner.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

God is my strength!

I resolved that 2012 would be the year of the half marathon for me. My goal is to finish 3 of them. I've made the first step by registering for three:  the Tinkerbell in Anaheim on January 29th; San Diego half on March 22nd; and the San Diego Rock & Roll half on June 3rd.

It is now only 10 days until my first half marathon. I've been working hard at getting in condition for it. I use an app from Runner's World called "Smart Coach."  It basically tells me each day how far to run, how fast, and whether it should be a steady (easy) run or with some speed intervals.  I've been averaging about 27 miles a week for the past few weeks. Once a week, it has me do a "long run." The long run started out at 7 miles in December. Yesterday, I did 11!

The long runs can be a challenge.  Two weeks ago, I attempted to do 10 for the first time. At about mile 8, I literally ran out of gas. I couldn't even run on a zero incline.  Walking up the hill to my house, I had a few moments of wondering if I would even be able to get home! I've done a lot of thinking about what happened so I can avoid hitting that wall again.  Now when I have a long (or hard) run, I make sure I have a dinner with some carbs the night before. It doesn't have to be a lot, just some.  I also have started to have my "running breakfast" of an egg with 1/4 cup of egg white and a bananna along with my green tea. A friend who has run a few half marathons also suggested I get some "Gu" energy gel. I had tried to use fruit leather as a pick-me-up, but it didn't help me on the day I hit the wall.  I also carry a "fuel belt" with two 8 ounce liquid containers. I put water in one and some electrolyte mix in the other.

Yesterday, I killed my 11 mile run.  The course I run has a lot of hills. You can't get away from them where I live. I figure it is good training. All in all, the elevation increase/decrease is almost 1,000 feet. As I set out, I didn't care about my pace. I just wanted to run the whole thing.  I ran from my house, past Isabelle's school, through the back trails to Discovery Lake. I did 4 laps around the lake, then ran home. I took the Gu at about mile 6.75.   I did it.  Not only that, but it felt GOOD.  I felt like I could do 2 more miles.  It would have been hard, but I could have.  When I got home and checked my average moving pace, it was under 11 minutes per mile.  (Okay, it was 10:59....but that is under 11!)  It took me 2 hours, 3 minutes to do the 11 miles.  I can't believe that this girl who HATED running day and would walk 4 laps to get a C in P.E. at Alvarado Jr. High just ran for 2 hours straight!

As I finished out the run for the last couple miles, I kept repeating, "the Lord is my strength....the Lord is my strength."  I ran across a new verse this week during my bible study: The LORD God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer's [feet], And He will make me walk on my high hills." (Habakkuk 3:19)  How perfect is that?  Of course, the verse from Isaiah 40 also runs through my mind: "Those that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up on wings like eagles. They shall run and not grow weary, they shall walk and not grow faint." As I repeated this mantra, I could feel strength increasing in my legs as I ran up hills.  Running is a way for me to put cancer behind me. The more I run, the stronger I am, the further away cancer seems.

The end result from yesterday is that I feel totally ready to run 13.1 miles in 10 days.  The course is going to be much flatter than I'm now used to, so it should be pretty "easy" in comparision.  Yesterday was my last "long run" before the half marathon. I have one more hard run on Saturday-a tempo run where I am supposed to warm up for a mile run hard for 5 at a fast pace and then cool down for a mile. 7 total. I do those on a treadmill so I can keep track of my pace. A 10 minute mile on the treadmill is much more difficult for me than a 10 minute mile outside. The treadmill is relentless!  After that run, its shorter distances of 3 and 5 miles next week.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

It's not about the boobs

One thing that kind of bothered me during the 3 Day walk last November. It isn't isolated to the 3 Day, not is it a Komen issue. It is a part of much of the "breast cancer awareness" hoopla. I had seen it before, but was immersed in it to a much greater degree during the walk. Walking 20 miles a day gave me plenty of opportunity to think and explore my feelings about it.

Its the emphasis on breasts.  The over-emphasis. In one way, its kind of a "duh" statement. Of course there is talk about breasts...its breast cancer.   You can see this in many of the slogans and team names for these awareness events:  save the ta-tas;  save second base; boobie crew; you name it. I've even seen pre-pubescent boys sporting bracelets that say "I love boobies." Presumably this helps raise awareness among the middle school crowd?  (As if middle school boys weren't aware of breasts, even if a little afraid of them!)  Or how about men wearing shirts declaring themselves "official inspectors," offering their "services" for women who need help with their self exams.

Is the goal of all of this is to save a pair of breasts?  Have we failed if breasts are not saved?  Does life cease being meaningful without them?

During the 3 Day walk, as well as the American Cancer Society's Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk, there were tons of signs saying things like this, people wearing huge fake breasts, making a joke of it.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not against finding levity in a bad situation.  In fact, I would venture to say I have a pretty good sense of humor and let a lot of stuff roll off my back.  One series of signs got to me, it said:

"Imagine a world without boobs." 

As if it were painting a picture of some worst case scenario, apocalyptic world. Yeah.  Well, its not so hard for me to imagine.  I don't have them, and I'm probably not ever going to get them. I'm flat as a pancake.  But you know what?  Its not the end of the world not to have had them "saved."  They key point is that I'm still here.  Here's the thing....even without breasts/boobs/ta-tas/a rack, breast cancer may still come back and claim my life.

You see, its not about the boobs. It's about women's lives. Trust me, you can live without boobs.  Breast cancer in the breast(s) isn't what kills women.  It is when it metastasizes to other body parts that her fate is sealed.

I know that our society will never get away from these silly slogans and over-emphasis on breasts.  It brings out a little pre-pubescent silliness in everyone. Perhaps this is the first level of "awareness."  20 years ago, people were ashamed to even say "breast" cancer. I suppose this is some form of progress.  I just hope we can move beyond this adolescent level of addressing the issue and realize that its not about the boobs....its about the women.  Finding a cure means more than saving breasts.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

My TV debut...

Don't blink, or you may miss me! Here is one of the ads that I'm in for the 2012 3 Day Walk.
If you are interested in reading the story of the day we shot this, you can read about it here.

'United' TV from Komen 3-Day for the Cure on Vimeo.