Monday, September 28, 2015

I always said I make a good Wingman...

I'm dusting off the blog to share my latest passion. Funny enough, I blogged about being a Wingman in 2010, The meaning was a little different, but I've always said I make a good wingman, or "right hand man". Give me a task and I will do whatever I can to make it happen. After watching Melinda, a fellow triathlete, on her journey as a Wingman for some time now, I finally joined Athletes Serving Athletes. This organization helps disabled athletes experience the thrill of athletic competition.

I lost the passion for racing some time ago, but I love having a goal. Watching Melinda help some amazing athletes reach their goals got the fire going in my belly again, this time to pursue helping someone else complete their race. On a recent training run, one of the coordinators was telling me that hearing a disabled athlete speak about his races was truly incredible. I've had the pleasure of seeing Sean on each of my Annapolis training runs. When Sean speaks publicly about his experience, he says that even though he can't run, he feels the adrenaline before a race. He feels the pre-race nerves and excitement, and gets to experience the rush of the wind and the thrill of racing.

On my first training run as a Wingman, I ran with Sean, who gave me investment advice and critiqued my driving of the Jogger in which he was riding. This young man was brimming with personality. He shows up week after week for training runs, and loves participating in races with ASA. This article was written about Caleigh, another athlete I have had the pleasure of running with. If you wonder why this organization is worthwhile, this explains it. The amazing thing about these athletes? There isn't talk about race times, or equipment, or PRs, or competition (although some are known to tease the wingmen out if they "aren't going fast enough"). There is just a love of the sport... A love of being able to do something they might not otherwise be able to do. Each training run I have attended, there is great camaraderie between the athletes, wingmen, and families of athletes. Some of the parents run with us, other times they catch up with one another while their athlete is out running.

How does being a wingman work? Usually you run with 3 wingmen and an athlete in a jogger. The wingmen take turns pushing the jogger, rotating as the group determines. Each time I've run, we have settled into a rhythm of trading off the jogger. The pace isn't record breaking, but set to the comfort level of the slowest runner. In this situation, it is truly about the journey, not the time. I have left every training run feeling beyond blessed to have been given this opportunity. For all my runner friends, I encourage you to consider this... even one race in the next year could mean an incredible adventure for a disabled athlete.  The motto of Athletes Serving Athletes is "Together We Finish".

For more info about Athletes Serving Athletes, click here.

To visit my Athletes Serving Athletes fundraising page, click here.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Four Years Later...

This Saturday is the four year anniversary of my ectopic pregnancy. For some reason the anniversary is particularly raw for me this year. I have theories on why that is, but I think a lot of it has to do with our ability as nurses to think "things could always be worse". We minimize our own struggles because we see so much pain and struggle every day. Our situation can't really be that bad. I did this a lot in the days, weeks, and months after my ectopic. I explained it away, and told myself and anyone I talked to that it happened for a reason.  A couple months later, my hair was falling out, I lost some of the hearing in my left ear (it has never come back, and they never found a cause), and my SVT (abnormal heart rhythm) was flaring up regularly. I'm certain that the mind-body connection and the emotional stress contributed to these things. I would say it was at least a full year before I really dealt with things emotionally... I would also say that I continue to deal with this loss and I likely always will, as anyone in my situation does.

Here is what happened in 2010 in my words:
I found out last week that I was pregnant. We have two beautiful, amazing children. Lately, we have been enjoying the fact that our youngest is becoming more and more independent at 4 years old. We hadn't planned on a third, but apparently that plan was going to change. I selfishly thought about the things that I would put on hold for a few years. No triathlons in 2011... "Ok, I'll shoot for 140.6 when I turn 40" (that would give me 6 years). No more disaster medical team.... "Ok, that can be put on hold. I can still attend the trainings and keep up my skills." "We can't afford three kids in childcare...Ok, we will revise our schedules to eliminate before and aftercare for the two older kids." In a week, I had come up with a potential plan. It was a rough week. A lot of crying. A lot of guilt, for being shocked by this pregnancy when I know there are so many people who are trying so hard to have children. I felt tired, and nauseated, but tried to push through. Of course I started to become attached to this new little one.

On Monday, I started to feel uncomfortable. Pregnancy can make you uncomfortable, so I prescribed myself a dose of "Suck it up". Hours later, the pain was intense. (It should have been a sign when I put my jacket on the floor of my office and lay down for a few minutes trying to get comfortable). Eventually, my OB sent me to the ER. I was an emotional and physical disaster. I always feel fortunate to work with such amazing people, but even more fortunate to experience their skill and compassion when I needed it most. It took a ridiculous amount of pain medicine to get me comfortable, but they did. Tests showed that the pregnancy was ectopic (it was taking place in the fallopian tube rather than the uterus). This can be life-threatening, but thankfully they caught it in time. They were able to give me medicine and avoid surgery. It took an overnight stay to get the pain and nausea under control. The medicine (methotrexate) is a chemotherapy agent. It stays in my system for over a week, and causes nausea and other symptoms. I still have a fair amount of discomfort, but it gets a little better every day.

Three days later, I don't think I've begun to process it all. I went from thinking about how life would change with a baby, to not being pregnant in a week. I know I need to grieve, but I think I am too emotionally exhausted to be there yet. I do know that I don't have control over when it will happen, and just have to let things come as they may. 

Above all, I am thankful for the love of my family and friends. Tommy has taken time off to take care of me, the kids have kept their fighting to a minimum, and everyone has been so wonderful with their offers for help. I couldn't ask for more. I am sure there is some lesson in all of this for us, I just don't see it yet.

Four years later, I still haven't figured out that lesson. What I do realize and appreciate so much more is the loss experienced by those who lose a pregnancy. While Tommy and I weren't trying for a third child, it was still a loss, and it catches me off guard at unexpected times. Perhaps the lesson is that the loss has to be acknowledged. Sometimes we have to sit with it, no matter how hard that is, and let it be felt. And we don't always have to live in a world of "could be worse" and "things happen for a reason". Sometimes, things can just suck for a while... and then we have to pick up and give thanks for the amazing things that balance out the loss.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Sometimes You CAN Ask for Help

Those who know me well know I don't keep much to myself....

I do worry that sometimes I over share, but then I get positive feedback on a blog post from an unexpected source. My hope in sharing this story is that I explain the past 6 months of my life and perhaps help someone along the way. This May, I had the opportunity to hear Brene Brown speak about vulnerability. In a room full of 6,000+ nurses, I felt like she was speaking to me. I have often tried to "do it all", and do it on my own....without asking for help or admitting to vulnerabilities. Tommy and my family have always been an unwavering source of support for my endeavors (whether it was Hurricane Katrina relief, or school, or professional endeavors), but I never really relinquished control or asked for help. While I have a longtime love of Wonder Woman, when people have jokingly called me that I think to myself "if only they knew what a mess I can be". After hearing Brene Brown, I felt permission to share more of my vulnerabilities and to acknowledge that I am by no means perfect. 

Yes I do a lot...and am involved in a lot, but so many times I feel like I have dropped a ball. One of my greatest challenges is feeling like a good and supportive friend to some of the amazing women in my life... I don't think I show some of them nearly enough how important they are to me. This resulted this Spring in the loss of a friendship that I had always considered dear. 

This February, I tried an antidepressant (amitriptyline) to treat my migraines. I asked my headache specialist what the side effects were if I wasn't depressed. It turns out that irritability is the big issue. I made it about a week before my co-worker held an intervention. I was downright nasty at times on the med. (Some might say it wasn't the med...)

The following month, I developed really significant PMS symptoms. I have had hormone issues before, but I felt downright depressed. Every month, it got a little worse, until I had 3-4 days of feeling clinically depressed  and anxious every month. By July, I was feeling very distraught about it. While depression carries with it a stigma for some people, I felt surprisingly unthreatened by the idea of asking for help. I just wanted help. I did research and realized it was probably Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD). Literally PMS on crack. Over the course of a few days, I melted down to Tommy and my family, and made an appointment with my MD. I went into the appointment with the goal of describing my symptoms, but not self-diagnosing. My MD is very well respected among staff in the hospital, but I have never loved her more than I did that day. She immediately said "I think it is PMDD". I cried with relief when she said "You have been trying to deal with this for you want to try a medication?" I'm not a fan of throwing medications at every problem, but I knew that is what I needed. Zoloft (sertraline) is indicated for the treatment of PMDD, so we went with that. She told me that it wouldn't eliminate the problem, but significantly improve my threshold for dealing with the symptoms. When I thanked her profusely for her help, she said "You did the hard work by showing up, I just wrote the prescription." This is my doctor but also a colleague whose patients I care for on a regular basis. To leave there feeling just as competent and respected as I did when I walked in meant the world to me. 

One month later, I weathered my hormones in much better fashion. I know that I am getting off easy in comparison to people who struggle with depression every day of the month. I also know that there may be more difficult months ahead. This will certainly be a journey, but being able to ask for help was a HUGE first step. A pivotal moment for me came this week when a patient's family member asked "Are you always this perky?" I'm glad to have my perkiness back. 

This concludes my oversharing, but if you are one of those "balls" I dropped along the way, or one of the people who put up with me through some of my least desirable moments, I'm Sorry, and THANK YOU for sticking around. 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

"I don't know how you do it"

This is an absolutely true story. Yesterday, I was walking through the hospital lobby in my lab coat and stethoscope when a man in his 30s started walking next to me. Out of the blue, he said "I don't know how you all do this. I could never do it."
Me "You mean work in a hospital?"
Him "Yes. My Mom died here a month ago and now my girlfriend is having surgery. I know you all save lives and stuff, but how do you deal with all the other stuff?"
Me "Everyone has something they are really good at. For a lot of us who work here, this is the thing we are really good at"
Him "I still don't know how you do it"
Me "There are days this job is really, really hard... but then there are those moments when you know that you have helped someone, either by saving their life or easing their suffering. You carry those moments that touch you and rejuvenate you forward, to help you deal with the bad days."
Him "That makes sense, but I still don't know how you do it"

We talked for maybe a moment more, and then went our separate ways. Obviously he was a young man who needed someone to talk to. As I read all the Nurses Day posts this morning, I thought of my conversation. Being a nurse is a calling. It can be thankless, and exhausting, and emotional... but at the end of the day, week, or month, you have absolutely touched someone, and made someone's life easier.

Happy Nurses Day!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Key to Keys 2014

It is hard to put the experience that is Key to Keys into words. Take 8 days of the best summer camp you could ever go to, with amazing friends, and add more laughter and tears than you could imaging packing into that time frame. Everyone on the journey has a story. This year we had three volunteer drivers, all with connections to cancer, the Ulman staffers who all have their own stories, and 25 riders. There were survivors, and many who had lost loved ones to cancer. Some days we laughed a lot... using levity to get through the day. Other days, we would ride in our SUVs and someone would say to a rider or support staff "tell me your story". You cannot hear the story of someone losing a child, spouse, parent, or loved one to cancer, and not be moved. Every day, I was surrounded by people who picked up the pieces of unimaginable loss and moved forward to help others. I was humbled to be with these amazing folks. I also know that we touched people at every stop along the way.

Having completed the ride last year, I definitely had a different focus. The aspects of the ride that brought me the most joy (aside from that moment when you peeled off your bike saddle at the end of a long day), were those in which I could help someone achieve a new distance. Several people rode longer than they ever had on Day 1, and continued to shatter their personal records on subsequent days. This trip is truly about the journey, and I am so thankful to Tommy and my kids for supporting me on this journey once again.

How it Works
Each day, we woke up and were split into 5 riding groups. To me, the beauty of Key to Keys is that we never know where we are riding until that morning. We were assigned our groups, and each group rode 25 to 70 miles each day (one group pulled a century on their longest day). The shorter rides were associated with visits to cancer centers along the way (6 in all this year). We had business cards with information about the ride, and used them to help people follow along with the journey. The challenge was to give out as many cards as you could.

Each morning starts with a dedication circle. Everyone who wants to speaks about who they are riding for that day. It is powerful and emotional and inspiring. To have a purpose and a person in mind each day provides focus. It also provides insight into what is motivating your fellow riders on that day.
Dedication circle in Charleston, SC

SUV selfie...Chris and the ladies

The ride itself was not about being fast, and I feel like we saw amazing sites along the way. Some days were back country roads and avoiding being chased by dogs, while others were more well-traveled roads and beach towns. We stopped and saw the sights, including the Navy Seal museum, a Revolutionary War era church, and even the Oscar Meyer mobile.
Riding with the boys, Day 2
In 8 days, strangers become family, random people on the street donated cash when they heard what we were doing, and we laughed and cried on a regular basis. As a group, we raised enough to fund the cancer navigator position at Walter Reed Military Medical Center. Meg is that navigator, and her program will provide services to young adults (ages 18-40) in the military who are dealing with a cancer diagnosis. 

Riding into Key West
The most bittersweet part of our journey was the ride into Key West. You want to pedal backward, to delay the inevitable. Even though friends and family are there at the finish, you want to enjoy the ride just a little longer. Inevitably the Southernmost point arrives in the distance, and we pedal to the finish of our journey. While Key to Keys 2014 has ended, there is still much to do in the young adult cancer fight. We ended our dedication circle every day with the UCF slogan: 
"Cancer Changes Lives....So Do We"

Many thanks to all of you who supported me on this journey, and to those who were support staff or riders, thank you for sharing those 8 days with me. If you would like more information about the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults, click here.

Riding the bridge into Savannah (much steeper than it looks here)

We had just passed Kennedy Space Flight Center and seen a rocket launch.

No one can ever pass up an amazing photo op!

Day 8... Getting ready to saddle up for our ride into Key West. 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Bully Effect

Bullying seems to be a big topic of conversation in our house the past few weeks. Thankfully my children aren't being bullied, but it is definitely happening (especially with the increasing prevalence of social media contact among kids). It wasn't until a friend shared her experience with her daughter being bullied, and watching "The Bully Effect" on the Cartoon Network with my kids, that I realized how much being bullied affected me.

It didn't happen every day, or even every week. It wasn't a regular thing, but I have vivid memories of episodes from 6th through 8th grade that were isolating, upsetting, and obviously stuck with me. I wasn't a social outcast...I had friends...but no "good friends". I didn't have that one best friend who was there through thick and thin who would have stuck up for me. I was a rule-follower, which probably didn't help. I separated myself when people did something to break the rules, and that made me stand out. I had a huge gap in my teeth and I was a "late bloomer"..neither of which helped me when it came to getting teased by the boys at school.

 My parents didn't know about it..and let me just say that they are/were awesome parents. It wasn't talked about in schools like it is now, and I didn't show any signs of having problems. I was a well-adjusted kid. I got good grades, I wasn't depressed, I didn't show any signs. Since it didn't happen on a regular basis, I don't think it ever dawned on me to tell anyone. I'm sure I thought it would only make it worse.

I vividly remember the 6th or 7th grade picnic at Lake Needwood.  I can still see the hillside with the blanket on it, and all of the girls sitting on it. Somehow one particular girl started heckling me whenever I got close to them, not allowing me to join them. I don't remember what was said, but I remember that no one spoke up. No one left that blanket to come hang out with me so that I wasn't alone. I think I tried more than once to approach them with the same result. So I was left to kind of wander around, and end up hanging out with the teachers. So what would I have told my parents? That the girls weren't nice to me? I don't think that would have helped the situation....and it was in that moment that I was isolated. After the fact I don't think it would have had an impact.

Like I said this didn't happen all the time. So many people have/had it much worse, but it still impacted me. It makes it hard to watch it going on with 5th grade girls and not want to pull a girl aside and tell her to stop being such a butthead!

There was the Junior High trip to London. I paid for half of the trip with my own money. Probably only 8 or 10 of us went, with one teacher. We were allowed out on our own at some points (a thought which scares me now). There were specific instructions not to go to the part of town in which the Hard Rock Cafe was located. Everyone else decided to go ....wait for it.... to the Hard Rock Cafe. Being a rule-follower, there was no way I was going. Somehow I ended up very accidentally spilling the beans after they left. (I believe we were told what time to be back, and they were late. Someone said to the teacher "You never told us." and I said "Yes she did, before you went to the Hard Rock Cafe".). That right there was social suicide for the rest of the trip. We were staying at some two-star hotel, and I won't ever forget everyone else walking down the winding staircase, all looking up at me and giving me the middle finger. Yes...I inadvertently ratted them out...but it sucked. I ended up spending the rest of the trip by myself or hanging out with our teacher. The good news is I still have great memories of all the sites in London.

In 8th grade I remember being intimidated by one of the other girls and a high schooler. It only happened if the two of them happened to be alone around me. A few times they would be coming down the steps as I was going up. They would move side to side, not allowing me to pass. There were mean words on occasion,  but nothing with great regularity.

It faded off at some point. Joining the fire department was probably a pivotal point for me. I found a purpose, something I enjoyed, and the camaraderie and friendship I was looking for. Summers at camp were another amazing time. It was a place where I felt like I belonged.

I like to think that I turned out ok. I have more amazing friends than any one person deserves. I have "those" friends who I know have my back no matter what. I have an awesome family. I know many others aren't so lucky. It feels a little self-indulgent to share my story, but watching 10-year-old girls go through something similar brings it all back. The irony is that many of the girls involved in the stories above friended me on facebook at some point in time. I'm sure they don't even remember these events.

Tonight I watched "The Bully Effect" with the kids. It is a great show for kids in elementary school and older. I cried watching how badly the boy in the featured story was bullied. He was hit, kicked, stabbed with pencils. The vice principal did a horrendous job handling it. My kids talked about the fact that their school holds sessions on bullying, and S even mentioned that all the teachers are trained in dealing with bullying. That said, it often happens away from the watchful eyes of teachers, and kids are still afraid of the repercussions of telling an adult.

When my friend shared that her daughter is experiencing bullying, I told her she needs to involve a few of her good friends. This is a girl who has friends. She needs to know that if she is bullied, she can go to those girls and ask for support. Obviously she needs to tell an adult, but in the moment she needs "go to" friends who keep her from feeling isolated.

My story is not unique, and it is mild in comparison to so many. I'm thankful that in the span of one generation, we are talking about it more. We are also more accepting of people who are "different". We are making it more acceptable to report a bully or call them out on their behavior. My greatest hope now is that Tommy and I can empower our children to stand up for others. As I have told my daughter more than once, mean girls only have power because people give them power.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Key to Keys: The "Finish"

The start of our last day...Homestead, Fla to Key West.
(Matt Brown, our awesome photographer, is missing from the pic because he was taking it)

When you compete in a running race or a triathlon, it is often a solitary event. There are other competitors and spectators giving you encouragement, but ultimately it is about your best effort on that day. Sometimes there are stories of people sacrificing a faster time in the name of helping someone else get through the race. In the case of the Key to Keys ride, every day was about the sum of your team. What did we bring to the ride as a team? I learned an immense amount about cycling on this to ride in a pace line (thank you Jimmy), some more in-depth bike mechanics (Jimmy again), and wasn't about the time finishing most days, but about the journey. The biggest physical challenge was the amount of time in the saddle. The muscle fatigue wasn't as much of a problem as the saddle soreness that set in after hours of riding. Even when it hurt, it was easy to remind yourself that this was a lot easier than battling cancer, and that cancer doesn't always have a defined finish line.

In any big race I have done, be it a triathlon, marathon, or half marathon, I have cried at the finish line. I'm never quite sure what triggers this reaction...sometimes it is more overt than others. It is joy at finishing the race, a sense of elation at the accomplishment, and thankfulness that I was able to complete something I considered to be a major goal.

The finish of Key to Keys was different...I think we all would have added extra miles at the end if it meant holding on to the feeling of the ride for a little longer. There were lots of jokes in the last few blocks about pedaling backward to make the day last longer. All day, I had thoughts of hugging Tommy at the finish in my head, and I couldn't wait to see him. At the same time, I didn't want for this amazing journey to be over. As we rode through Key West, people on scooters joined in behind us, cheering us on. It made me think of little kids on their bikes, only they were adults. We rolled into the Southernmost Point, and there was Tommy with some of the other spouses. The Ulman Staff were waving our Team Fight flag and cheering, as were the tourists lined up for photos at the Southernmost Point. It was a neat experience to have never visited Key West Before and be seeing it for the first time on my bicycle.

Riding the "Seven Mile Bridge" (which REALLY is 7 miles)

We Made It!!!!!!!!!
Paul Lemle got some awesome shots of our viewpoint.

Paul getting us as we rolled into Key West.

Matt Brown, our elusive and awesome photographer.

The evening ended with a dinner on the beach at "Fort Zach", and a lovely celebration of our accomplishment. One last dedication circle as the sun set reminded us of our accomplishment and gave us an opportunity to say thank you. Despite tired legs and worn bodies, many of us danced into the night, celebrating our accomplishment. (It was funny watching people after a few frosty beverages completely doubt that we had ridden our bikes to Key West).

Patti took this one....a beautiful tribute to our ride.

This truly was an amazing journey, and while we crossed the finish line in Key West, I know that many of us feel our contributions to the Ulman Cancer Fund do not end here...through time, stewardship, sport, and fundraising we will continue to support UCF. A huge thank you to Brian Satola and the Ulman staff for the vision and hard work that made this amazing journey happen...and to Tommy who never says "you can't do that", just "tell me what I need to do". Not to mention all the family, friends, and coworkers who supported in so many ways. My cup is overflowing, and thank you doesn't seem to be enough, but thank you for helping me along on this journey.