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.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Tough Chicks

As a breast cancer survivor, I have several new "notable" days to observe each year. Not all of them call for a celebration.  On Sunday, June 10th, I observed the second anniversary of my cancer diagnosis.  It was the day I learned for sure that I had the disease.  I had to have had it for awhile, so it wasn't anything new to my body. But to my mind and spirit, it was a day that changed my life forever.

When I got off the phone with the nurse who broke the news to me two years ago, I went upstairs and did a Jillian Michaels level 3 workout. I didn't cry or freak out. I just exerted myself to nearly my max. I sweat like a dog.  When I got tired, the word "CANCER....CANCER...CANCER...." reverberated in my head. Each repetition was like taking a punch. As I was stretching out afterwards, I did shed a few tears. But my mindset was not that of being a victim. I had become a warrior.  Working out was training for the bigger battle for my life.

I learned through the course of my treatments that my strength did not come from myself, but it came from the Lord. If it were not for His strength, comfort, and sustenance, I would not have been able to cope with it all, physically, mentally, or spiritually.  That is why when I hear this particular song, "My All in All" I literally can break into sobs. It pierces my heart. It is like "our" song.  God's and mine, that is.  

You are my strength, oh God.
You are my help, oh God.
You are the One on whom I call.
You are my shield, oh God 
My life I yield oh God
For you will always be my All in All

Wouldn't you know it?  On Sunday, June 10, 2012, that was the last worship song we did in church. I couldn't sing, I just meditated on the words with my hands upraised in praise and tears rolling down my cheeks. There are no accidents. God was observing this day just as I was.

After church, mom and I drove up to Orange County to attend an event put on by the Komen affiliate in Orange County. It was a celebration of survivors with a luncheon and fashion show. One of the women I met doing the 3 Day commercial last fall invited us.  (It was so fantastic to see her again, and meet her family!) I can't think of a better way to have spent that day but in the company of dozens of survivors and co-survivors.  Some survivors had 20+ years. Others were still in treatment. But all of us were bound together by a common bond. One speaker referred to it as a sorority of sorts. Perhaps. I never was in a sorority in college. If it is, it is one with one heck of an initiation, to be sure.  You get a two survivors together, and they can talk for hours comparing their histories, their surgeries, and all that they have done against their common enemy.  And they genuinely care for one another. We live with so much in common.

One thing I am struck by so many of the survivors I meet is their strength. To get through the emotional, physical, and mental gauntlet of diagnosis, surgery, chemo, radiation, reconstruction in most cases and then living with the specter of possible recurrence requires strength. Especially to do it well.  We all do the best we can do. So many of the women I met and saw on Sunday are surviving with strength and panache. It was like IN YOUR FACE, CANCER!  It was so inspiring. Some of these women had battled cancer several times. One woman had a recurrence after 20 years and it was now in her bones. But she was amazing. She was a active, she was smiling, she was beautiful. She was kicking butt. I loved her.

It is one of the things that motivates me to push myself physically.  It's not vanity that makes me get out of bed at 5:30 a.m. to run for an hour. Instead, it is my way of being stronger than cancer. To kick its butt. To show the world and cancer that it doesn't have me. I may have had it, but with God's strengthening and grace, I won.  Even if it comes back, I won. I won't go down weak.  Like other survivors, I am a tough chick!

Monday, June 4, 2012

In the can...

One of my goals for 2012 was to complete three half-marathons.

Yesterday, I was able to check that one off my list.

I ran in the San Diego Rock & Roll Half Marathon.  I had been planning on running with my best friend from my Junior and High School days.  Sadly, she let me know a few days before the race that the situation on her end just wouldn't work out to travel to San Diego for the race. Dang!  Now I had no excuse not to run fast!  I had been training all along like any other race, averaging about 30 miles a week for the past month.  My longest training run was 12 miles.  In the last week, my "hard" runs (the long run and tempo runs) went really well.  I felt strong!

My best time before yesterday was 2 hours 10 minutes, 30 seconds.  My minimum goal was to beat this time. I figured if I could keep my pace around 9:30 minutes per mile, that would be no problem.  Deep down, though, my ultimate goal is to complete 13.1 miles in under 2 hours.  A little part of me thought....maybe I could do it today??

I woke up at 3:30 a.m. on Sunday morning. I had been hydrating well all week, and adding a few extra carbs for the past few days.  It was hard to rest the night before the race. Partly because I didn't go down to San Diego to check in and get my bib and swag bag ahead of time. I paid an extra premium to be able to check in on race day.  I also got to park at the finish line (Sea World), and take a shuttle to the start line (Balboa Park).  I probably got only 4-5 hours of sleep the night before. That was the one thing that I wish I could have made different.  It's not for a lack of trying...I went to bed plenty early. But drinking 3+ liters of water in a day has its effects, if you know what I mean....

Anyway, I got down to the parking okay. The shuttle was uneventful. However, it took a LONG time once he got off the freeway. That clued me in to how crowded it was going to be. There were over 30,000 runners registered!  Everyone started at the same time...so you can imagine the congestion.

I managed to get my bib and timing chip. Once I got it on my shoe, I decided to make a pit stop at the porta potty. Even though there were dozens of them, the lines were incredibly long. I was going to have to go before the start in an hour. I figured I would wait in my corral, or wait in the toilet line!  It took a long time, and I realized as I got near the front that I didn't have any kleenex.  What if there wasn't any paper??  Oh man.  Something to bring next time. But, as I tell Eric....Don't worry about things that aren't going to happen!  There was paper, so it was all fine.  I checked my bag with my sweatsuit and headed over to the corrals.

By the time I got to my corral (#25), it was just about time for the race to start:  6:15 a.m.  When I signed up for this race, I had never run a half marathon, so I estimated my finish time to be 2 1/2 hours.  Based on that, they assigned me to the appropriate corral, which was farther back from the faster runners in front. Corral #1 got started right at 6:15 a.m.  Then every 2 minutes or so, the next corral would be let go.  I figured I could overcome my position by getting in the front of my corral. Then I wouldn't have to run around everyone who might be slower than me.  It sounded good in theory.

As we started to slowly creep forward, I began to think....Do I need to go to the bathroom again?  Or is it mental?  I waited awhile as they earlier corrals got started. I heard group #21 get let go and realized that I really DID need to go. If I didn't, I would have to go during the race, and that would affect my time. So I made a quick dash to another set of porta pots that lined the start line on Sixth Avenue. Even if I started with the next corral, it wouldn't matter.  My race would start when the timing chip on my shoe crossed over the starting line.

I got out and managed to get back in my proper corral.  But this time, I was more in the middle. Maybe I should have just gone to the front of #26. Who knows.  I decided to stay where I was assigned. (Am I not a good girl?)   By the time I got started, it was 6:52-over 30 minutes after the race had started for the elites.

During my past two half marathons, my strategy has been to pace myself. I wasn't sure I could even do 13.1 miles, so I started slow. This time, I was ducking and weaving in and out of people in my way. It was by far the most populated race I've ever done. I decided to change my strategy.  I decided to run fast when I could.  Usually, the first few miles are the hardest for me. Once I get 3-4 miles behind me, I go on automatic and, if its a good day, feel like I can go forever.  When my first mile beeped on my Garmin at a pace of 9:26 I thought...Yes!!  With all the zig zagging, I managed to make 9:26 and feel good. I can do this!

I had a really cool experience early on in the race. It was early on. I was on Park Avenue and I got this overwhelming sensation that people were praying for me. I was so overcome with emotion that I almost started crying as I ran. It's hard to explain, but it felt like a dump of Holy Spirit adrenaline. I found out later that a group of friends from church were indeed praying for me and another friend around that time. I knew my parents were praying for me, as well as other friends as well.  I felt it!  It was amazing!

The course itself was okay. I enjoyed the beginning when we were on city streets and running through Balboa Park. Every mile or so there was a live band playing music. It was great.  Around mile 3, we went onto the 163 freeway. That was fine, but around mile 5 it started to hurt. The street was never level, it was always at a slope. Plus, I continued to have to bob and weave in between slower runners.  I never realized that the 163 freeway between Balboa Park and the 8 freeway is an incline.  Towards the end, one of the singers with a band commented about how we were almost at the top.  Ah. That explains it. Its not that I don't do hills, but it does make it harder. (I live on a hill, so running in my neighborhood requires me to do hills.)

To make a sub-2, I knew I would have to be in the low 9 minute mile area each mile. The first several miles, I thought I could do it. I even clocked mile 4 at under 9 minutes!

I was pleasantly surprised around mile 8 to see my mom and dad by the sidelines, cheering me on. That was awesome. They parked at Qualcomm stadium and took the trolley. I knew they were planning on being at the finish, but I didn't expect them in the middle!

I kept pushing on, and felt like I was passing a lot of people. Of course, with everyone starting at a different time, that didn't mean a thing.

As the race went on, it got harder and harder. I just wanted it to be over. I still had a few miles to go. I knew I could finish...but at what time?  Having my Garmin was great-I could see where I was and if I needed to speed up to make that split a better time, I could.  But by mile 11, I was running out of gas.  I tore open a Gu that they had given me on the route. Strawberry banana. Kind of gross (I prefer chocolate or coffee flavors).  I had some and tossed the rest to the side.   Mile 12 was the worst.  You can't say that its your last mile, and the scenery wasn't that inspiring.  I even (gasp) gave into the mind and walked a few yards.  That mile was my slowest, as you can see.  By then, I could do the math. I knew that I wasn't going to make 2 hours, unless something utterly miraculous happened.  Honestly, me running like this was already pretty darn miraculous!

Almost done....I passed the Chinese dragon!
Those last miles were hard.  I found myself praying....Lord....lift me up on wings like eagles.....run and not grow weary.....run and not grow weary....You're my strength and my shield....You give me strength...set me up on high mountains....and stuff like that.  Scripture, really. Not so much original thought, other than ....God get me through this!

As Sea World came into view, I tried to keep up the pace. I knew it was going to be over soon. I decided to scan the crowd and look for my parents. I saw them right around the 13 mile mark. They were situated on a corner. I was able to wave to them long before I got there.  It really does give you energy to have a friendly face in the crowd.

I managed to have a little bit left in the tank to push it a bit at the very end---you can see my last split was under 9 minutes per mile.  But I was so glad when it was done!  I knew I would be glad to have done it, and I am. But man, a lot of it was hard, and hurt!  But you know, anything in life worth doing that is going to pay off is going to be hard. Otherwise, what is the point? If everything comes easy, then nothing will make you stronger.
Mom and dad found me after the race...a miracle!

Cancer made me stronger. It sucked. It was hard. It was scary. It has made me appreciate what I am able to do today. I never will be the same as I was before my diagnosis. It's always in the back of my mind. But I'm stronger for it. That's not to say if I could go back in time and divinely decide not to have it happen I would choose it. But God has a plan for me, and cancer was part of it. I hope I am able to glorify Him through all that I do because He has given me the strength to do whatever it is I do post-diagnosis. Whether that is recovering from surgery, making it to chemo, or exercising with radiation burns. HE is my deliverer!

So I finished.  I accomplished my first goal...to beat my time. I finished in 2:04:10.  I was a little disappointed not to break the 2 hour mark. But out of my age group of fortysomethings, I came in at 209th out of 1,443.  I can't complain about that!  In fact, I'm pretty exited about it.

Where do I go from here?

Well, this is my last "long" race of 2012. I've signed up for a few 5ks, and I've got the 3 Day Walk in November. The family and I are going to France in a couple weeks. Once I get back, I need to start to transition my mindset into walking rather than running. It's going to be hard. Running is so awesome. Not to mention efficient-I burn twice the calories in half the time.  This year, I want to keep running a little, even through walking season. I want to keep at least a 5k in me.  I've signed up for the Carlsbad 1/2 marathon in January, and I don't want to be starting from scratch!   I've also decided to do what's called the "Triple Crown" in San Diego in 2013. It's a series of 3 half marathons: Carlsbad in January; La Jolla in April; and San Diego (America's Finest City) in August.

People keep asking me....do you think you'll ever do a full marathon?  Gosh.  The idea of 26.2 miles seems way out of reach.  But you know?  Not too long ago, 13.1 sounded ridiculous!  Heck, I've walked  60 miles in a weekend!  So maybe in 2014, that will be a goal.  One thing I know for sure. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!!