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.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

This is how I survive

I know it has been quite awhile since I blogged-a whole season has passed! Summer was busy and all too short. We didn't go on any vacations, but the kids kept me busy with all of their activities. I took advantage of the longer days to really get into my triathlon training. After that disaster at the Encinitas race last May (described in my last post, "Live to Race Another Day"),  I had a bit of anxiety about open water swimming, particularly surf entries. I took advantage of the San Diego Tri Club's standing biweekly workouts on Tuesday and Thursday mornings here in North County. Lots of practice going in and out of the water. I was really blessed by a few of the other members who took the time to really teach me about surf entries, even to the detriment of their own workouts!

In July, I successfully completed my first triathlon. It was a sprint distance course: 1k swim (ocean entry), 20k bike, 5k run. I did the race with a fellow breast cancer survivor, so it was really cool for us to do it together and stick it to cancer in that way!

Nancy and I show off our body markings in July
I had decided early in the year that my goal distance for triathlon was going to be the Olympic distance. Sprints were a bit short, and Ironman or even half Ironman distances were nuts. (Although the more I do this, the more I wish I could do those longer courses!)  An Olympic distance race is typically 1,500 meter swim, 40k bike and a 10k run. So that was my goal for the year.

Earlier in the year, I signed up for an Olympic distance race, the San Diego Tri Classic.  My training going into the race was pretty good. My goals were to do the swim in about 40 minutes, 90 minutes for the bike, and maintain a 10 minute mile pace on the run.

That race was today.

I got to the transition area at around 4:45 a.m. Yikes! Early, isn't it? I woke up at 3:15 a.m. to get there in plenty of time. On my way to the racks, there was a guy doing athlete body marking. I figured I might as well get it done first, so I showed him my bib number so he could get to work.  They typically mark your biceps, quadriceps, and put your age on your calf. He went to mark my left bicep, but saw my compression sleeve.  "You can't mark that." I said. I suggested he do my shoulder instead where there were a few inches of skin between my singlet and compression sleeve. A girl was standing there in line and said to me, "You're a breast cancer survivor."  I looked at her and said, "Yes. Yes, I am." She was really nice and congratulated me.

I racked my bike and made small talk with another woman in my age group who was competing.

At 6:00 a.m., they let us get into the water for a warm up before they started sending the waves out at 6:15 a.m.  My wave was scheduled for 6:27 a.m.  It had been a few weeks since I had done any open water swimming and the wetsuit made me feel really buoyant.

The swim leg was okay, although it is kind of hard to swim with hundreds of other people in the water. There were moments where I got kicked, swam over, splashed in the face while trying to breathe, but these are all parts of the sport. I was happy to have the swim over with so I could get to the bike.

The bike course was a challenge-pretty hilly. But I live around hills, so I managed it okay. I felt bad for those competitors that I saw on the side of the road with mechanical issues. I'd be hard pressed to fix a flat, although I could with time. But one guy had a more serious problem and ended up pushing his bike 6 miles at the end!

The run was the tough part. I had done a training session with a 40k bike and 10k run. But it was really hot and humid today. I ended up having to do a fair bit of walking. After 4 miles, I decided to do an "empowered walk." Rather than see it as a defeat, I started to walk as fast as I could, swinging my arms and feeling like I was racing with it. As I did, I started to gain on one lady who was ahead of me, doing a slow jog. As I got closer, I saw from her calf that she was in my age group. I decided that MY race today was going to be to beat that particular woman so my name would be above hers in our Female 40-44 standings. I kept up the walk, and then picked up a run here and there, making sure that once I passed her she did not pass me back. A lot of people were walking-it was pretty hot. Even young, fit looking people were walking. I saved some mojo for the last .2 miles so I was able to run it in across the finish line.

My official time was 3:22:41. I pretty much met my swim and bike goals. My swim was 35:08, bike was 1:30:58. The run faltered a bit, and I came in at 1:09:47, an 11 minute mile. But whatever. I did it!!

My post-race included a lot of water, some orange wedges, 1/8 of a bagel and more water. I got a free massage from some physical therapists that were there. That was awesome.  Then I made my way over to the beer garden. Yes, the popular races feature a complimentary beer garden for competitors. I got myself a cold one (Stone IPA) and made my way over to the stands to watch the other racers who were still finishing the course.

A girl struck up a conversation with me while we were sitting there. This was her first triathlon, her boyfriend had done a few Ironman's and that is how she got into the sport. Then she asked me what got me started doing triathlon.

Hm.  Why indeed? Why did I start racing at all? Not just tri, but half marathons?  Why AM I doing this? It can be physically painful, time consuming and expensive.  I told her that it seemed like something really hard to do. Then I confessed...that a few years ago I was going through treatment for breast cancer. Of course, when you say that you usually get a shocked expression. But it is true-pushing the bar to the next "hard thing" is how I survive. It is how I move on, making a new kind of life. Leaving cancer behind, pushing my body that has been cut, poisoned and burned beyond anything that I ever thought it was capable of doing.  This is how I survive. Strongly. Always looking to the next thing to tackle. By the grace of God, this is how I survive.

This was all confirmed for me while I was driving home. I was listening to a local pop station which usually plays contemporary songs. Then they played Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive." Woah!  They always play that song at the end of closing ceremonies at the Susan G. Komen 3 Day. It's quite an emotional moment, because you are physically tired and you are there celebrating with hundreds of other survivors. It really is something. Well, today, I celebrated by myself on Interstate 5! I cranked up the volume and sang at the top of my lungs with tears running down my cheeks. Yep. I will survive.

And this is how I do it.

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