“A Journey of a Thousand Miles, Begins with a Single Step.” ~ Laozi
Many weeks ago I had the most amazing photo shoot with my friend and awesome photographer, Eileen Earnest Photography. I’ve been wanting to do this for some time now. For me it was to be a permanent reminder of how far I’ve come in my health and fitness journey. I cannot thank Eileen enough for this! She focuses primarily on newborn and child photography so I was grateful for her making an exception for me. Please check her out!! We spent an incredible morning at Susquehanna State Park in Maryland, about 35 miles north of Baltimore. Just the two of us and a bunch of fisherman – breathtaking 🙂
Everyone has their own motivation to get and stay fit, be it weight loss, health concerns, sports or just the desire to maintain a healthy lifestyle. I wanted to share a select few of these photos (she shot over 700!!) with just a little more about my own journey. If you’ve read my About Me page you know I’ve always been a runner for exercise and worked out at least 3-4 times a week all in the interest of staying healthy and trim. In early 2010 a close friend invited me to join her and a few others for the Hyannis Half and 10K. They did the half and I eagerly agreed to the 10K having no clue that translated to 6.2 miles. At this point in time I had never run more than 3 miles and never consistently or at a fast pace. I began to train in earnest in the middle of a New England winter which I like to think toughened me 🙂 I finished in 1:08:15, not bad for a first timer and how I caught the racing bug!!!!A couple of weeks after this run I got a nasty cold/virus that lingered for weeks. I finally succumbed to the doctor not knowing this would be the beginning of a year plus long process of ultrasounds, doctor’s appointments, MRI’s, and surgeries (oh my!) My initial doctor’s appointment revealed an elevated blood pressure which sent me to a kidney specialist and on medication to treat it. The kidney specialist I saw wasn’t concerned about the blood pressure numbers, but took some tests anyway and said he’d “get back to me”. More on that later. A subsequent appointment with my doctor is where a lump in my abdomen was discovered, a 10 cm (4.5 inches, size of a grapefruit!) fibroid tumor confirmed by both an ultrasound and an MRI. Gulp. I won’t go into the details of all the options available for removing a tumor of that size, but I spent several months being poked and prodded, scanned and dyed, and asked about my plans for fertility (sigh). This left me an emotional (and hormonal) mess. I finally opted for surgery and scheduled it for later that summer. This is when things got interesting. I had a job shift and made the decision to move out of state. I had everything planned accordingly, started working with a personal trainer, and gotten my emotions in check (reasonably). Then the “letter” came. Yes, a letter, from the kidney specialist who I hadn’t heard from in about 6 weeks. The letter contained results of the tests he took and all I read was “blah blah blah, schedule an ultrasound”. So. many. questions. I scheduled the ultrasound quickly – and having become a pro at these tests, thought I’d be in and out of the hospital in 30 minutes tops! Silly me.
This ultrasound appointment was not meant to be 30 minutes or less. It lasted an hour and a half shrouded in secrecy and whispers. In the end a physician came in and I asked him to just be direct with me. I was told there was “something” there and I needed to follow up with my doctor and get an MRI. All I could think of was the movers had already picked up my stuff and the car was loaded and my other surgery was scheduled. I made my move but came back to Boston for the MRI which revealed a solid mass in my left kidney. I was told there was a 95% chance it was cancerous. Because of the location no biopsy was ordered, the only choice was surgery to remove it and a portion of the organ. Those emotions I had previously checked? became unchecked. Lucky for me the network of doctors (minus the kidney specialist) all communicated with one another and we collectively decided Kidney trumps Fibroid so that surgery was postponed.
I found a phenomenal surgeon and the kidney surgery happened at the end of the summer and, GOOD NEWS – the pathology report revealed an abnormal BENIGN tumor. Cue the Happy Dance. Though that was the longest 10 days of my life. I could not believe the result after hearing the odds of a 95% chance but I was ABNORMAL!!! I said at the time and still say to this day – I’d rather be abnormal ANY day of the week! Recovery was painful and slow but I was glad I had taken steps before surgery to make sure I was in shape. I used my arms a lot to lift myself up and down! After several months I was pretty back to normal (um, physically) so then it was time to address the other tumor. It was attempted laparoscopically but ended with a major incision. I endured a long hospital stay, almost transfusion, and another months long recovery. Bigger sigh. Finally over 15 months after my initial diagnosis I was cleared to work out. I did light strength training and yoga – which helped my sore ab muscles tremendously. The clearance to run came a bit later.
I took it slow but my competitive spirit drove me to a couple of 5k’s. I hurt my ankle probably from being so excited to run and shooting out of the gate quickly but learned the power of REST when you need it. For longevity sake. I recall running the Semper Fi 5k in July (ankle taped!) and finished in 28:47. I had never broken a 30 minute 5k before. I won’t lie, I cried when I crossed the finish line. This was a race I did on my own but I was in tears – good tears – strong tears – I made it tears.
Beyond the physical toll this was quite an emotional roller coaster for me. But everything happens for a reason and without this part of my story, the journey to becoming STRONGER doesn’t exist. Oddly enough the blood pressure problem that started all of this didn’t go away until AFTER the second surgery – turned out not be kidney related at all. And even though my experience with the kidney specialist wasn’t great, if he hadn’t ordered that ultrasound even 6 weeks after the fact “just to check” well, who knows. I do know that I will never have a completely flat tummy. I will always have numbness in an area of my abdomen. And I will always have scars on my stomach – but these are my battle scars and I wear them proudly. I am beyond thankful for my friends, family and loved ones for the amount of care I was given during this time and the deep level of support I had and still do. Not everyone “gets” the running thing and my passion for it – and they don’t have to. But I am so grateful for every day, every step, and every run. I try to not take for granted what I CAN do and remain determined and steadfast in my quest to maintain a healthy lifestyle and constantly challenge myself.
Over the past couple of months and particularly with this blog, I have heard from others that I have inspired them to get out there and workout or run. Friends email me for advice and give updates when they’ve run and how far. That always puts a smile on my face no matter what the distance. And I feel humbled to serve as an inspiration and hope to continue to be so – even if it is just one.