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.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Thoughts on "Awareness"

As we embark on Breast Cancer Awareness Month 2014, here are some of my thoughts:

October is a month that is dreaded by many women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer and gone through treatment. Not all of them, but there is definitely a vocal segment of the “survivor population” that detests all things pink. I'm not one of them, although I do understand some of their sentiments.

I understand that numerous corporations jump on the pink bandwagon all in the name of “awareness” to get people to buy their product with the promise that money will be donated to charities that support breast cancer research and support. I understand that in some cases, not as much money actually gets donated as the consumer may think. Its just a marketing scheme. I get that. Buyer beware. If you are buying a product because you think its going to help, make sure you know where you are putting your money. As some critics urge, “Think before you pink.”

I understand that just because breast cancer is detected early with a mammogram, it does not mean that the patient will survive.  "Early detection" doesn't necessarily save lives. First of all, mammograms aren't the be-all and end-all of screening. They don't always detect cancer, especially in younger women with dense breast tissue. My mammograms and their interpretations failed to catch a 3 1/2 centimeter tumor on my left breast! Secondly, mammograms introduce cancer causing radiation to your body. Thirdly, there is always the potential of recurrence. I'm not saying women should not get mammograms. But it that is the focus of “Breast Cancer Awareness Month” we are missing something.

Is anyone in this day and age “unaware” of breast cancer? I understand that 20-30 years ago, it was a disease that women may have been ashamed of and no one spoke of. But those days have long passed.

"Awareness” is nice. I like the color pink.  I appreciate the sympathy. But I think everyone is “aware” of breast cancer now. Having football teams wear pink is nice, but it doesn’t do anything to solve the problem of breast cancer. Don't get me wrong-I really do appreciate the sentiment and the desire that people have to support those affected by this disease. I don’t want to poo poo on people’s well intentioned efforts.

But it is time to go beyond awareness. It’s time for action. Especially when we consider those who are diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer, which there is NO cure for. Even people diagnosed with earlier stages of breast cancer can go through treatment and keep on living and think they are fine and then have a recurrence. Once it has gone beyond the breasts, it is incurable. That's scary stuff.

 I get a quite annoyed at all the “save the ta ta’s, ” “I love boobies,” and “protect 2nd base” stuff I see during October. Or the pink bras, or dogs with balloon boobs, or any of it. It isn’t cancer in your breast that kills you. You can live without breasts. I know, because I do. It is when it moves into other organs or your bones that kills you. That is what I want people to be “aware” of.

We all know breast cancer exists and is bad. But boobs are so not the issue! Some people think October gives some the license to talk about boobs...come on! How old are we? When I see a teenage boy with a shirt or bracelet "I Love Boobies" I cringe. Of course you do, dear! Most teenage boys do, after all. Grow up, people!

So what kind of action do we need to take beyond a squishy warm fuzzy feeling of “awareness” that accomplishes nothing? I believe it means funding research on Stage IV, or metastatic, cancer. 30% of all breast cancer patients will metastasize, but only 2% of research funding goes into Stage IV. Isn't that where the focus should be if we really want to find a "Cure?" We need to fund organizations that give grants and money to institutions that are researching cures. Some organizations that are on my radar:

  • The Noreen Fraser Foundation
  • The Breast Cancer Research Foundation
  • Metavivor

  • I'm sure there are other worthy organizations. If you know of some, I welcome you to add them in the Comments section.

    Finally, there is a lot of backlash against the Susan G. Komen organization and its affiliates among some in the survivor community. I'll say here that I do support Komen. I appreciate the advancements over their history that they have made towards research and treatment of breast cancer. Most, if not all of the treatments I received probably had some origin from a Komen grant. They have a very informative website. I enjoy their events and lead a team for the annual 5k race here in San Diego. I've done the 3 Day Walk twice and enjoyed every moment. I've met survivor sisters who have become friends through Komen. Heck, I even appeared in some of their commercials!  But only a small percentage of the funds they raise goes towards research. The rest they use to help women who are in treatment and pay for their operating costs. Some women in treatment need the assistance. Some women can't afford mammograms. I'm not against these other programs that Komen sponsors. They are helpful and there is a place for them. I am not a Komen hater. There is room for all kinds of organizations to address the needs and issues that breast cancer raises. I'm not one to tell people not to donate to Komen if they want. In fact, I'd be happy if anyone wanted to donate to my team, the Pink and Plaid Warriors for the 2014 Race for the Cure.  

    As we go through the month of October, I just hope that people move beyond the warm fuzzy, amorphous idea of "awareness." If you really care, go beyond wearing pink. Donate to organizations that are funding Stage IV research. Or volunteer to drive a cancer patient to chemotherapy appointments. If you know someone going through treatment, bring them dinner for their family. Call your local organization and see what you can do to help.

    It's time to go beyond "awareness" and really make a difference.

    Just my 2 cents!

    Thursday, January 16, 2014

    The best laid plans….

    Writing my blog is a bit like therapy for me. So forgive me if this is long and boring.

    Nearly a year ago, I signed up for the Carlsbad Marathon. I had run the half marathon version in 2013 and felt like by January 2014, I would be ready for my first full marathon.  I had a year to get ready, as well as plans for 3 more half marathons in 2013 and a handful of triathlons.  I figured Carlsbad would be a great first marathon for several reasons: It is literally next door; I'm very familiar with the course; it's fairly flat; and they had a pretty generous cut off time. 

    I followed a 16 week training program from Runners Word Smart Coach. My mileage maxed out at 40 miles a week for a few weeks in December. I followed the rule of not increasing your mileage by more than 10% a week. I ran 4 days a week and cross trained with the bike and swim on the other 2 workout days. I ran increasingly longer "long runs."  They started at 10 miles, then went to 12, 14, 16, 18 and even 20 miles a couple of times.  Sure, I had to walk a bit on those long runs (I would run 4 miles, walk 1/4 mile). But I did it.  I was going to do 26.2. 

    My last 20 miler was on December 23rd.  I ran the Carlsbad marathon course.  It went fine. Sure, the last couple miles were really hard. But that's the point, right?  In the middle of the night, I got up and as I walked to the bathroom, my left thigh protested. Okay, I figured it was just sore muscles.  

    But sore muscles generally go away after a few days. This didn't. It was worse in the mornings and then would lessen, but not altogether disappear. I ran on Christmas Day and it was the worst run I've possibly ever had. It was hot. I was tired. I was dehydrated, and my dang leg hurt.   

    I went and saw a sports physical therapist on Saturday. I actually had a half marathon that I was signed up for on December 29th. It was intended to be a "tune up" race for the next month's marathon.  The therapist was great-he told me that the muscle in question was my "sartorius." It's the longest muscle in the body, going diagonally from hip to inside of the knee.  He also pointed out that I had pretty tight hips on both sides, but particularly on the left side. So he showed me some stretches to do, most of which I already knew. But I realized that I need to do a LOT more stretching/foam rolling than I have been. 

    The question was…do I run the half marathon? He thought I probably could if I warmed it up a lot.  Of course, I wanted to run it-I had some friends who were also doing it and it was going to be fun.  It was only 13.1 miles, after all. (Believe me, after training for 26.2, 13.1 isn't a big deal!) 

    So I went for it. The leg hurt for 7 miles, but I focused on my form and running straight. After 7 miles it went away. I ended up with my fastest half marathon time yet…2:03 and change. I decided around mile 9 that I might even be able to break 2:00, so I went for it. 

    I was REALLY sore for days after that. The course was a net downhill of 700 feet. I didn't realize the impact that has on those thigh muscles! Not just the sartorius, but my quads were not happy with me! 

    I decided to take a week off of running. It was taper time anyway.  I figured that if I just cross train and give it time to heal, I would still be okay for the marathon. I even posted in the Runner's World marathon forum to have more experienced runners tell me that I would still be able to do it after taking a week off. They assured me that, "the hay is in the barn."  Okay. Great. I would swim and bike, with good warm ups, good stretches and ice after each workout. I also was taking Aleve twice a day. 

    I had an excellent session with a skilled massage therapist who did some trigger point therapy on the muscle.  She went from insertion point to insertion point on the muscles of the back and hips and really dug in there to get some of the tension released. I believe she actually pinpointed the origin of my problem. My left hip was higher than my right hip. Going up the chain, the muscles on the left side and back were extremely tight, which pulled the hip up. That in turn caused that sartorious muscle to have to extend further when I would run. The prescription: keep even in my shoulders and hips. Interesting side note was that it was tightness around my left side where I had the invasive lymph node removal. Ah cancer! The gift that keeps on giving!

    My run break ended last Friday when I did 5 miles around a local lake with the kids.  Well, they did a few laps and then played at the nearby park while I finished my run. I felt the leg, but it was okay. I did a lot of stretching and iced it and it didn't get worse.  I can do it if it just is like this or better, I figured. I re-read my "Big Book of Marathon Training" and got assurances that crises in confidence are very common during the taper. The hay was in the barn. Rest up and look forward. 

    The next day my mom and I went to this fun event in Los Angeles for an upcoming TV series based on our favorite series of books, "Outlander." It involved standing in line for hours. No biggie. I figured it was an extra day off. But the next day, my leg ached. Uh oh. Instead of my planned run, I went for a swim. 

    On Monday morning during my prayer time, I asked God to give me clarity in my decision making. I needed some guidance on what to do. Do I run through pain?  Would it get better in a few days? 
    That day, in addition to everything else I was doing to treat the injury, I wrapped my thigh before the run. I did 5 miles and it wasn't that great. I was paranoid the whole time about my leg, and I did feel it the whole time. Monday night, my leg just ached.  I realized that God had answered my prayer. There was no way that I was going to be able to safely run/walk 26.2 miles on this leg in 6 days' time. 

    So I've decided NOT to run the race. I know in my gut that it's the right thing to do, but a part of me is being resistant to the decision. So here is why I know its right:

    • First and foremost, I don't want to injure it even worse. That would probably sideline me for months instead of weeks. 
    • I've got things I want to do in 2014: A friend and I signed up for a 66 mile bike race in early March. It will be my first bike-only event. It has over 2,300 feet of elevation climb. I've got to be able to train for that.  I've also got a half marathon in mid-March, the San Diego Half Marathon. I had been hoping to break my 2:00 time barrier. I don't know if I'll be able to do that, but at least I'd like to run it!
    • There are other races, even marathons.  I had pretty much decided that I would sign up for the San Diego Rock & Roll marathon in June, regardless of whether or not I ran Carlsbad. Deciding not to run Carlsbad sealed the deal. I signed up a few days ago. 
    • The 450 miles I ran in training are not a loss. It increased my running fitness. It gave me the confidence to know that I CAN do it. I just can't do it injured.  It's funny when anything under 14 miles doesn't really seem "long" anymore. How twisted is that?! 
    • I can keep my cardio fitness up while I nurse this injury through the bike and swim. Besides, I need to be doing more on the bike anyway with this race coming up. 
    • I am an athlete, and injuries are part of the sport.  I was reading in one of my magazines (I think it was "Triathlete") and they were interviewing an elite athlete who pointed out that injury is part of the sport. So is rehabbing and being smart about what you do. If elites go through this, I guess its okay if I do. I mean…look at Ryan Hall. I'm in good company.
    • Next time around, I can make changes that will hopefully avoid injury. First and foremost, I will do more weight training to strengthen my hips and glutes. And I will continue focusing on flexibility and myofascial release with the foam roller. Every day. I will also get regular massages to work the kinks out that I can't get myself. 
    So that's it. I think I've got it all out.  I still plan on going to the Carlsbad race expo and picking up my shirt and other goodies. I did pay $70 after all. I'll feel a little "illegit" in wearing it, but it will be the most expensive running shirt in my collection! 

    If you've read this far, I appreciate it.  I've accepted the disappointment, and am looking forward. Pray that my leg heals up so I can move forward as well.