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.

Friday, April 19, 2013

But I LIKE the black line!!

I would consider myself a pretty strong swimmer. I've been increasing my time/distance in the pool over the past few months as I consider participating in triathalons. Well, more than consider...I've signed up for a sprint tri next month!  In my loose "training" I've worked up to a workout that is about 3,100 yards and takes me about 80 minutes to complete.  I'm even the proud new owner of paddles and fins to make some of the drills more effective! (It also adds some spice to the back and forth!) 

But, as you know, I've decided that 2013 will be the year I break into the sport of triathalon. Living in San Diego is a great opportunity for this sport. We have great weather and lots of water. The only catch is this....that water isn't a pool with tidy black lines on the bottom. It's either the Pacific Ocean, or a Bay that is right off the ocean. 

That's right. OPEN WATER.

If I'm going to ever make myself into a triathalete, I'm going to have to get used to swimming in the open water. The first step was to get a wetsuit. Even with the warm weather, the water can be cold. A wetsuit really is necessary.  I got a pretty good deal on an Xterra suit through the Tri Club of San Diego.  I was thrilled when it arrived at my house all squeaky clean and rubbery smelling. Smooth and nice. Aaahh.  I'm one step closer. I tried it on, admired myself in the mirror. I even ordered myself a cool pair of polarized goggles that should arrive any day.  I'm almost there!

As the date for my first tri approaches, I have this nagging reality that I really need to get into the open water.  I'm even too chicken to try a club triathalon without some practice first. (Especially if it was like the duathalon where I showed up and it was all young guys in their 20's! I'd be sure to be the slowest of the slowpokes!) 

Fortunately, the Tri Club hosts several different swim, bike, and run workouts throughout the week. On Thursday evenings at Mission Bay, they have a beginners open water swim. The only requirement is that you have a desire to get out of the pool (check!) and can swim at least 50 meters without stopping (check!)  It was a little bit of a challenge to arrange the family dinner and rides for the two older kids for their evening activities, but I managed to go to make it to my first session last night. I was a little nervous, since I knew I wouldn't know a single person there.  But...this is what I have to do to get to where I want to be.  

I figured with my strong skills in the pool, it would be a snap to transfer into the open water.  But I'm such a newbie, that I'm not even sure how to put ON my wetsuit, much less swim in it!

As I found my way to Ventura Cove in Mission Bay, I saw all of the preparations for a big triathalon that is in San Diego this week, the Omega Wave World Triathalon.  How exciting! As I pulled into a spot by the Cove with my TriClub sticker on my car, I felt like...yep! I belong here. I saw athletes in the water, swimming back and forth between buoys. That would be me soon!  I was anxious, but excited too. 

I had my wetsuit in a bag, and was wearing sweatpants and a 3 Day shirt over my bathing suit. I walked over to the group assembling on the grass and saw a lady with the same wetsuit as me. I introduced myself and we chatted a bit.  I was relieved to see a wider range of ages, sizes and abilities at this session. This wasn't going to be too bad.  After all, I can do 3,100 yards in the pool! 

I struggled my way into my wetsuit, trying to look like I kind of knew what I was doing.  As I looked around, it was funny that at least 80% of the swimmers also had XTerra suits. Yep...I fit right in all right!  The group was fun, one guy in particular was a jokester. It helped for me at least to break my inner tension.

The coach came over and got into his XTerra suit and gave us all tips. A few of the participants were going to be racing this weekend, so a lot of his tips were about getting in and out of the water during a race. I learned a lot.  One of his tips was to always warm up before the start. Get in the water to get over that initial chill and do a few dozen strokes at least.  So he told us....Get in!

Gulp.  Okay, its now or never. I ventured in and it was pretty chilly on my feet. My legs felt okay since the suit covered them.  The others and I waded in up to our thighs and the coach yelled, "START SWIMMING!"  

I launched forward onto my belly.  Or, perhaps more aptly, into the abyss. 

It was cold, but I knew it would be. What I didn't expect was that my breath would freeze up. I literally could not exhale.  In the pool, I breathe bilaterally every 3 strokes. I had to breathe every stroke, and even then, felt like I was dog paddling.  It induced a kind of panic in me.  Even worse, the goggles just protect the eyes from salt water and that's it. Because it was murky and dark. Kind of freaky, actually.  You take it for granted in the pool that you can see underwater. That comforting, familiar black line is there to guide you where you need to go.  I found I was squinting my eyes, which made the seal on my goggles break and water seep in. I don't know if my extreme eye squint was because of the cold, anxiety, fear, or a mixture of all of it. I did several "strokes" and then turned around with the rest and went back to shore.  I described this to Eric and he thought it sounded like claustrophobia. Perhaps.

The coach had us jog down the shore about 40 meters to where our imaginary start line was. Actually, it is where the start line is going to be for the official races this weekend. We practiced getting into the water in a supposed race situation.  I was not looking forward to getting in the water again, but I knew that it had to be done.

It did get better this time. We all swam out about 100 yards and met out in the middle of the cove. They talked to us about "sighting" an object on the shore to keep going in a straight line.  Sounds good in theory. At this point, I was just trying to survive! Another thing I learned was that triathalon is a "full contact sport." We were bumping into each other all over the place, but that is normal. The coach told us that is to be expected, so don't stop and say "I'm sorry." It will only slow you down and annoy people.  We then swam a longer route to practice getting out of the water, sighting on one of the race tents that was set up.  The key to exiting efficiently is to wait until you are in very shallow water to stand up. It should be below your knees. Even if you are pulling yourself along the bottom, you are faster horizontal than vertical.  Then we practiced getting in again, swam a longer bit to the original shore where our gear was.  All in all, we swam a little under a half mile. Actually, I was surprised it was that far-it did not seem very far when I looked at the area from shore.

The longer swims did get better. For awhile, I was able to calm down enough to bilaterally breathe. But swimming in a wetsuit was more difficult for me and I reverted back to breathing every stroke. While it was nice to be more buoyant, the effort to get my arm up and around took more energy. Perhaps I didn't have my suit pulled up all the way?  Perhaps I should try some Glide next time.

We all got out and stripped out of our wetsuits. The group was really nice and I didn't feel out of place at all. I mentioned to a few people that I had just had my very first open water swim EVER. They were very supportive and said I did well-they had no idea how inexperienced I really was. 

I made it back to my minivan and was able to get out of my bathing suit and put the dry clothes on. It was really neat to be down in the pre-race atmosphere with "USA Triathalon" emblazoned all over the place.  Although it was not pretty, I did make it one step further to really fitting in. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Mind games

It is April. 

To many, April means springtime, flowers, sunshine. Summer is right around the corner!  For me, it is these things too, but I have an added event...my six month checkup with my oncologist, Dr. P. 

I am going on 3 years since my diagnosis in June 2010.  It was in April 2010 that I had my first mammograms that were declared "all clear." Ironic now that it just happens to be the same month of my biannual checkup. 

In the past, Kaiser had called me in advance to schedule this appointment. This past Monday, we were a week into the month and I still had not heard, so I called. They were able to get me in today. Goody. 

I realized this morning what a head trip this gives me, even if I don't recognize it at first. My workouts since making the appointment have been tough. I was supposed to run 12 miles on Wednesday. I knew that I wasn't going to get that far, since I had taken a week off to nurse a shin injury a week or two before. I had done 10 miles on the dreadmill  treadmill the week before. But it had been awhile since I had attempted 10 outside. So I was aiming for 10-11 miles.  The first hour was fine, but it was a hilly route and I lost energy around mile 6.5. I ended up jog/walking the last few miles. Grr. I have a hilly half marathon coming up at the end of the month-I NEED to be able to do this. Anyway, yesterday was a bootcamp class at the gym. The regular teacher was on vacation and there was a sub. It was a tough workout. I stuck it out, but man. I just did not have that feeling of inner strength that I usually do. Today was supposed to be an easy 4 mile run. Because I cut my mileage short earlier in the week, I did 5. The first 3 miles were great, but the last 2 were hard. I kept my overall pace under 10:00, but still. It should not have been that hard.

As I was taking Jean-Marc to preschool, the teachers all asked me the typical greeting question, "How are you doing?" I had to admit I felt kind of tired, and blah.  The problem is, when I feel kind of tired and blah, that little voice in my head pipes up and taunts me with...."Psst....this isn't normal for you. Maybe its cancer!" 

Why can't I just have an off day?

Then it hit me. I've been feeling this way since I made that oncology appointment on Monday. On paper, I should be feeling fantastic. I had a great 5k race last Sunday and ran my fastest time ever-I even scored a top 250 medal! I'm excited about my upcoming race plans-I'm getting into triathalon and am motivated. I've been doing great on my nutrition this week, I even weighed 3 pounds less today than I did a week ago! I've been getting 7+ hours of sleep each night. Spiritually, I've been spending more time in prayer and devotion and reaping the benefits of drawing near to my Abba.  Yet despite all of these positives, I've got this oppressive "thing" hanging over my head.

Now that I recognize it for what it is...spiritual attack, I will address it head on. Yes, I'm going to see Dr. P today. Big deal. We'll talk about how to get my body to stop producing estrogen, and he'll do his exam. I'll let him know I'm getting into triathalons, too. (He told me awhile back that he does them.) It will all be fine.  Not exactly like visiting an old friend, but not a meeting with the grim reaper, either. 

I'll look at a silver lining of it too. At least I was able to get my appointment within a few days. Imagine if I had this appointment hanging over my head for several weeks! Getting it in a few days is a blessing!   

I'll get this appointment behind me for another six months, and tomorrow I will KILL my planned run of sub 9:00 speed intervals around Discovery Lake! 

If anyone out there wants to pray for me, you still can. I need all of the help I can get to deflect these attacks.