Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Shout Out to Laurie!

So how cool is the wine bag that you see sitting on our shelves above our kitchen sink?! Even though Laurie gave this to me to use as a wine bottle gift bag, I am giving it to myself! I am astounded that someone can make something so beautiful out of her own two hands! And is there no better word to use with a great bottle of wine than "YUM"?!?! Recently, any drinking has made me feel sick so I am going to lay off on any wine drinking until the end of chemo (3 more treatments to go!) and Laurie's kind gift to me today will sit there, in the middle of our kitchen, reminding me that there will be life when this whole ordeal is finished! (Thanks, Laurie! You are so talented!)

One other event to report from today -- I had my hair cut pretty short which is weird for me (though I have been going shorter and shorter ever since the cancer diagnosis). But the damage from the chemo drugs (and the thinning) was wreaking havoc on my hair and Braxton (hair goddess!) was able to find a style that would make the most of what I have (left). I don't think I am going to lose any more hair (wishful thinking on my part?) but I can't wait to get back at least my shoulder-length hair!

So there are my two future goals -- a glass of wine and longer hair! :D

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A few pictures from the triathlon on Sunday taken by the Fleet Feet Racing folks (I'm a team member; hence, the shirt you see me wearing!). I aways hate pictures of myself so I am not super excited about posting these ... my hair is a mess nowadays (and, yes, I know I was doing a sporting event at the time so messed up hair is par for the course!), my skin is going crazy with these darn chemo pimples, and I feel overall bloated and unhappy in my skin. But with that said -- enjoy the pictures!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

I Tri-ed My Best! (OK, that was pretty lame, I know!)

I still feel almost "giddy" that I successfully completed my first "real" triathlon this morning! I was hoping to finish before 3 hours -- and I did. Click here for the official results page (I am in the 40-44 year old woman group and my last name is listed as "Rockwell-Shank") I did the 500 meter swim in 18:02, the 20 mile bike ride in 1:28:48, and the 4.4 mile run in 47:48. My combined time was 2:34:41. So I made the under three hour mark with some change to spare! Here is a basic run-down of what happened! (PS: No rain during the race but it rained on my drive out and my drive back! Crazy!)

THE SWIM: I just about s*** when I saw the pool. It was Olympic-size (from what I was told) which means it was 50 meters across each way. The other pools I used for the indoor "mini" triathons were a lot smaller and they had a shallow end so at some point I could put my feet down on firm ground. Not the pool today -- there was no shallow end and did I mention it was 50 meters long?? I can swim but (1) I wouldn't call myself a strong swimmer, (2) I never get to practice swimming since I have no access to a pool and (3) I'm a little bit afraid of swimming in the deep end. I got to the Rex-Plex early (or at least what I thought was early) and after finding a spot for my bike and equipment outside (not easy to do because the bike corral was already pretty crowded), I went into the pool area and watched the action for about 30 minutes. For the other two triathlons, I was assigned a swimming lane and went back and forth for however many laps I was supposed to complete. For today's race, folks would get in on one corner of the pool every 15 seconds and then start swimming. Once you got to the end of the first 50 meters, you would duck under the floating rope and swim in the next lane. And this happened 10 times. At one point, I looked down in the pool and saw how deep it was and freaked out a little so I swam mostly with my head above water (or doing some uncoordinated version of a back stroke). Each time I made it the end of the lane, I had to take at least a 30 second break while I hung on to the edge of the pool. So plenty of people passed me. If you look at my official time, you will even see that I was the last person in my age group out of the pool. But I made it. I can't begin to tell you how happy I was during that last 50 meters. Pure bliss!

THE BIKE: I left the water as fast as I could and ran outside in the chilly wind (about 50 degrees or so) and made for my bike. I tried to pull on my biking skirt and jersey as fast as I could but it's almost comical when you are soaking wet. I got my shoes on pretty fast but almost left the area without my helmet. I grabbed that at the last moment and then jogged my bike over to the departure area for bikes. Luckily, the guy in charge was someone I knew and we chatted for a minute about the swim and I remember telling him the worst was over. Well ... that wasn't exactly how it turned out but more about that later! The bike ride was actually the easiest for me -- it was about 20 miles out on country roads around St. Peter's but the strong wind made one direction of the course a tad bit difficult. Considering the fact that I was riding a mountain bike (it's all I have right now), I think I did pretty darn well. I passed three women and one man and rode as hard as I could. For most of the course, I was by myself; I think the bikers were pretty spread out by the time I hit the course. So, like I said, no problems. Sure, there was wind and there were hills but nothing I couldn't manage.

THE RUN: And this is about the time went things went bad. Real bad. I hopped off my bike in the transition area and traded my helmet for a running hat and I also grabbed one of my water bottles but decided not to take my MP3 player. I wasn't sure about the running course and I don't like using music when I am on city streets. Well, the course turned out to be gorgeous -- a wooded path that meandered through some quiet subdivisions (glad I didn't bring the tunes!). But the problem is that once I started the running portion of the triathlon, moments after ditching my bike, I couldn't feel my feet 100%. And my legs would not cooperate with me. I usually run with a pace -- a steady repetition that feels good. Not today. The first two miles or so were awful. I kept stopping and starting because I couldn't get my feet and legs to cooperate with what I wanted to do. At one point, I could feel the tears welling up. So I decided, F*** it. I'll just walk/ crawl the 4.4 miles. What the hell. But after two miles or so, things started to go better. I could feel my feet and I started running at a comfortable pace (I even passed 5 people). Sure, it wasn't as fast as I usually go, but I don't usually run after doing a 500 meter swim and a 20 mile bike ride.

The finish line was a bit anti-climatic. I went around a corner and boom! There it was. I knew I had finished toward the back because folks were already breaking down the finish area and most of the bikes in the corral were gone. But I was beaming -- even if there weren't that many people around to see it.

I feel lucky that I wasn't having a bad chemo day today -- I think I am generally more winded than what is normal for Dianna but the fact that I could do this given all the cancer crap is something to be proud of, I think. I so look forward to doing this next year when I am 100% healthy. And if I can manage to do a few more of these, maybe I can get a new bike that will help me go a bit faster (biking seems to my strongest card right now; Even Jim says that he thinks I am good at this -- must be those strong leg muscles from running!).

PS: Jim took the picture above when I walked in the door -- I came home to a fabulously clean house (thanks, Jim!) and an excited pup!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Keep Your Fingers Crossed!

So the forecast here in St Louis tomorrow is not as nice as I would like it to be! For the last few days we have had some cooler temps (with lower humidity!) but now the forecast is showing some light showers on and off tomorrow.

Why am I obsessed with checking the weather every few minutes? Tomorrow ... [drum roll to be inserted here] ... I am going to do my first "real" triathlon. I completed two indoor triathlons earlier this year (pre-Breast Cancer) and I had a blast (I even placed in one of them!) but both were completely inside -- a pool, an exercise bike, and a treadmill. The one tomorrow is at the St Peter's Rex Plex (over in St Charles County for you local folks) and is mostly outside. The swimming portion (5oo meters) is in the pool but the 21 mile biking and the 5 mile running are outside. I know I need to be extra-careful about getting sick when on chemo but I really, really, really want to do this event even though I am really, really, really nervous! I don't even care if I am the last person on the course. I just want to finish! (and I am still a little sore from the 13 miles of running I did yesterday; I am not usually that sore but I was exhausted when I finished the run).

So, please, keep your fingers crossed for me! :D
PS: That's not me in the above picture but I am seriously thinking about adding a tatt sort of like this someday!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Yes, I am Alive!

Just a quick note -- this has been an insane week. This last post-chemo was probably the toughest so far (which I guess makes sense). I was fine on Thursday night and even Friday but we went out to dinner with a group of friends on Friday night .. and some bad stuff happened. We went to Mango (the best Peruvian food here in downtown St Louis) and I was loving dinner as I ate it but somewhere along the line I could feel cramps and then, boom. I needed a bathroom and I needed it fast! I felt better afterwards but the same thing happened on both Saturday and Sunday almost everytime I tried to eat something. And my appetite is defintely just not there (seems like my hair is shedding more now, too; seriously thinking about cutting my hair super short).

Yesterday (Tues) was the closest I felt to feeling normal. Appetite is still lacking a little but I am back at the gym. I wasn't able to do the biathlon I had signed up for this past Sunday (Jim thought it was a bad idea for me to run in the rain storm we were experiencing) but I am hoping to FINISH the triathlon I will be doing this Sunday. This will be my first outside triathlon (swimming is in a pool but the biking and the running are both outside). The goal is just to finish and maybe have some fun along the way (and hopefully, no cramping!).

Today -- lots of teaching, conferencing with students, and cleaning up the Honors classroom (if you have seen our trailer, you will understand why this took me hours and felt like a hard gym workout). I also had my weekly Japanese language class, followed by a Tempura cooking class (long story). And now I am exhausted. So I have to stumble off to bed -- night!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Chemo #3

So the title of this entry says it all -- today I experienced my third CMF chemo treatment. I am getting experienced with this enough now to know that the steroids are making me feel OK right now -- but that will probably change by tomorrow or Saturday. But I am hoping that things continue to go as well as they have in the past. Before the treatment today, Jim and I met with Dr L, the oncologist, and she said that I am, indeed, experiencing hot flashes (whoopee!) and the tiredness is pretty much par for the course. She noticed that my hair is a bit "limper" which makes me feel good and that I am not just being paranoid. I also got copies of my pathology reports and Onctotype DX testing so I can keep this stuff for my records (seems sort of odd that I didn't get a copy of this important paperwork in the first place, I think).

I also went to my group therapy session for cancer patients which is two hours every Thursday night (on the other side of 270!). This was my third week and I think, if I am honest with myself, that it's a useful thing to be doing. Yes, I hate the time out of my schedule (and I am so tired!) but I feel like right now I am heading in a direction that is not healthy and I want to head that off before things get any worse than they are. Someone in the group once said that for every physical thing that happens to you (i.e. diagnosis, surgery, radiation, chemo, etc), there is an emotional parallel that is equally important to acknowledge and work through. This is the "stuff" that I think I need to wrap my head around. I guess it's just that I am afraid of "letting loose" too much -- I can barely talk wihout crying so I know there is a bunch of crap pent up behind some walls that if they break might be harder to reconstruct. I probably need to do something even more intensive but this is at least a start.

The two cats above are Bailey (11 years old; part Maine Coon) and Zora (13 years old; calico). I've had these two long before I even met Jim. Well, Zora has been acting funny lately (cries endlessly and drinks tons of water -- pretty much obsessed with the water bowl) so we took her to our new vet downtown (a block or so away) but neither of us were happy with the care 100% (i.e. smelly office). Anyway -- we took Zora to the Humane Society on Monday and paid -- again! -- for blood work and finally we have an answer to the obsessive water drinking and the almost endless crying during the night (which is getting hard for me to deal with). She apparently has a hyper thyroid. They think. The other possibility, if the thyroid medicine doesn't work, is that she might have some sort of brain illness. As you can imagine, I am hoping that the thyroid medicaiton kicks in and she goes back to normal.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tired, Tired, Tired

So what's my "new normal"? Tired. It's hard to describe exactly how I feel but it sorta resembles the "I have been at an all-night party and haven't had a chance to take a shower" kind of feeling. Or at least that is as close as I can get. And the weird thing is that I can't exactly say WHEN this feeling started. When I first started chemo, everyone kept saying you will feel tired. But at first I didn't. Everything felt pretty normal except the two days or so after chemo. But then things changed. And I think I am noticing it the most now, the last week or so.

I have figured out that mornings are the best. I can get up at 5 AM and work out at the gym downstairs even though I am definitely noticing a change in my stanima. That winded feeling comes just a little quicker than it used to. I am OK most of the morning teaching but by about 11 AM, I can feel the tired "creeping" over my body (for you literary types, I haven't been able to get the filmed version of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's short story "The Yellow Wallpaper" out of my mind!). And the strange thing is that is hits me so suddenly. I will be chatting with a student and then "wham"! There it is. And it doesn't go away. I manage to get through the afternoons but I feel like I am on battery power and I am trying to make it to my bed before those batteries die.

This whole physical feeling is hard for me to talk about. I've always been such a physical person that I am amazed (in a bad way) that my body is doing this to me. To top it off, the chemo I am on is "lighter" than the chemo a lot of other folks get. Am I just a complete and total whimp?? Does my body not get the word "cooperation"?

So in a nutshell, I just feel sad right now. Sad that my body is not working with me a bit more and sad that this whole process won't be finished until the end of the year. And what do I have to look forward to?? A damn hysterectomy. I am honestly so done with doctors and hospitals. And why is it that you start noticing more pregnant people when you know that this is an option no longer available to you? What is up with that? OK .... whine fest finished for the night. But I reserve the right to start anew tomorrow!

In dissertation news, a pal from grad school (Brandi) and I decided to push each other to write. I sent her some pages of something I wrote last weekend and she sent me the most thoughtful comments (and I now need to do the same for her!). I need to get this dissertation DONE. I think that what I am doing is important but for some reason I feel stalled and uninspired. I'd like to blame it on the breast cancer, but I was feeling this way before the diagnosis. But Brandi's comments have jump started me a little! (and thanks to Dr M for giving me the idea to write in small bursts -- more fun to do with Brandi by my side!).

Sunday, September 12, 2010

One of my most favorite music "moments" on film -- if you haven't seen the Laya Project, it is an amazing documentary about the lives and music culture of coastal and surrounding communities in the 2004 tsunami-affected regions of Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar and India. I first saw the film while staying at an organic farm in Northern India in 2008. As soon as I came back to the States, I bought the soundtrack -- and the film. The music is simply beautiful.

Some Thoughts Inspired by Weekend Reading

More than a century and a half ago, Walt Whitman predicted the coming of a race of "fierce and athletic girls" who ...

"are not one jot less than I am,
They are tann'd in the face by shining suns and blowing winds,
Their flesh has the old divine suppleness and strength,
They know how to swim, row, ride, wrestle, shoot, run, strike, advance, resist, defend themselves,
They are ultimate in their own right -- they are calm, clear, well-possess'd of themselves."

Pretty much everyone thought he was crazy.

PS: If you haven't read Walt Whitman, you really gotta check him out! Click here!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Why are these always "quick" posts?!

So here it is -- another Friday! And I am pretty darn tired. One of my new "hobbies" seems to be overanalyzing my health -- Am I feeling/ experiencing "X" because of chemo? Or is whatever I am feeling just from getting old? Is it just something I would be feeling/ experiencing even without the chemo? Well, all I can say is that I am tired. In some ways, more tired than I have ever felt in my entire life.

Even though we didn't have classes this past Monday (Labor Day), it felt like a l-o-n-g week. I am trying to put 110% of my energy into teaching so by the end of the day, I am feeling pretty "spent." I was also stupid enough to take on some other activities this semester -- a Japanese language class, a Japanese cooking class, a technology certification course related to my teaching, and a bunch of other little "things." (and, yes, I recognize that I not only have a problem saying "no" but that I think of myself as some sort of wanna-be over-achiever).

And the support group is also eating chunks of time ... but it is something I need to do (it's on Thursday nights for two hours). It's a lot harder than I anticipated. No majic wand here. Just tough discussion -- for example, I am learning that crap that I thought I had taken care of in the past is not as taken care of as I thought. Cancer sort of pulled the rug from under me and I need to get my bearings again ... (one of the women in the group was a Stage I like me 7 years ago and now she has a reoccurence that is Stage 4. Sort of freaked me out a little).

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Chemo Angels

A few weeks ago someone told me about this great online organization -- Chemo Angel -- that connects you up with a volunteer who "adds a ray of sunshine" to your life while you are undergoing chemotherapy. I went ahead and signed up ... and was notified that I was "adopted" by two people!

Let me start by saying that I can't wait until I am 100% cancer-free and can do this for other people! And that kind of statement says a lot about the program because I have been hooked up with two of the kindest people ever: Rachel and Laurie. Both of them have sent such kind notes to someone -- me! -- who is pretty much a stranger. In this day of email and virtual conversations, it is so nice to come home and see a letter (you know, those pieces of paper that people write on!). As I am nearing the middle of chemo, my strong attitude is waning a bit. These letters help brighten the mood. I just wish I were a better writer and could articulate how cool this program is. I feel like I have made two new friends even though I am living through the worst year of my life.

And to make matters even BETTER, I have re-hooked up with two old friends -- Bonnie (who helped me survive a Master's degree) and Jennifer (a former student who became a close friend). I have been so fortunate in my life (and travels) to have met the most interesting and fabulous people -- and one of my biggest regrets is that sometimes you lose the connection simply because stuff like that happens even if you don't mean it to happen.

So now I am sitting here, thinking that cancer looks a little "smaller" when I compare it the well-wishes coming from new friends and those coming from old friends.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Running Trivia Question of the Day!

Did you know that the first running bra made for such hard impact was actually constructed out of two jock straps? That happened, my friends, in 1977. Note the picture above! FYI: Recent research indicates that the perfectly designed sports bra still does not exist -- but it is the one piece of runinng "equipment" that I spend tons of money on! (I go through them pretty fast!)