Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Monday Motivation- On a Wednesday: Margaret

As I've said before, Papa Millie is heavy into bike riding these days.  It all started at the Y, a spin class, and a spin coach named Margaret.  From the two years that Ive known Margaret (or should I say known OF Margaret- as I just actually met her in person for the first time at the Naperville Tri)  she is one heck of a lady!  I will let her story speak for itself, but Spin Coach, Triathlete, avid Biker, Cancer Survivor.

Here is Margaret's amazing story:

“Feeling Good…. Feeling Alright…”

About a month ago I had an epiphany…. I realized I was feeling good. And not just good, darn good!

Reflecting on it over a few weeks, I was having the best summer in years- since before 2007. This was such an amazing feeling- and yet putting it out there is almost scary. Before I even told anyone I just kept it to myself for a while- and then told a friend or two. Then a few more people. I recently told one of my doctors…. And I am just beginning to realize that this journey I’ve been through over almost 4 years, a struggle for my life, has finally brought me to a better place.

I’ve always been active. I’m the only girl in my family- 4 brothers and I was right in the middle. From my oldest brother to the youngest there are 6 and ½ years. Growing up we spent all our time outside: climbing trees, playing tag, hide ‘n go seek in the cemetery behind our house, football, baseball, and hockey and of course riding our bikes everywhere.

 In high school I joined the track team and became a distance runner. My dream was to compete in college which I did- I was a “walk-on” my freshman year and eventually earned a scholarship. I had some injuries, had some fun times, traveled to states I hadn’t seen before, and made some great friends. Being a distance runner we were “in season” the entire school year- cross country from August to November, 2 weeks off then right into training for indoor track which went from January until the beginning of March, then right into outdoor track- through the end of the spring semester. Summers were time to recharge while still maintaining fitness, and during the summers in the early ‘80’s I discovered the sport of Triathlon.

After college I continued to keep up with working out- not as much as in college. I worked full time, got married and had 3 kids. My last triathlon was in the summer of 1990. Through the years, working out became my time to myself (not easy to find those quiet moments when you have a young family, work and all that goes with it). I would run a race every so often, sometimes just one a year. But in 2007 everything changed.

I think it all started after we had the big storm in August of that year. A few days after that epic storm, I was running in the woods and feeling like I couldn’t take a deep breath- almost like my sports bra was way too tight. I thought maybe all the rain had something to do with the air quality. I also had this voice in my head whispering that something more was wrong, and the voice whispered the word “cancer”.

A few weeks later I was competing in a race and had a major blowup. The first mile was slightly downhill and I thought I was ready to run a good time. Although I had warmed up and was fit, that first mile felt like I was running way beyond my abilities and I felt a crushing feeling in my lungs. My mile time was slower than what it felt like. I was having trouble breathing and slowed down, eventually having to walk. As soon as I got home, I called my doctor and was in the office first thing on Monday. We were both thinking “exercise induced asthma” but they had to rule out a blood clot in my lungs. Every test that she ran came back with a funny reading, so I had a lung x-ray, blood test, CT scan, and then a slew of heart tests. They did not find anything so she put me on an inhaler and everything seemed fine.

Until November….
That was when I found it….
                                    The lump….
                                                      And the enlarged lymph nodes….

I was scheduled to see the doctor the next day, and within a short time a mammogram, ultrasound, and whatever else would be needed. My previous mammogram was December the year before- all clear- so this was pretty frightening. I had the biopsy the day I had the mammogram. The next day I got the call.
They say you never forget the moment you hear the words “you have cancer.” I still remember that phone call. The next day my life became a whirlwind of tests and doctor’s visits and more tests. One thing I learned was that with cancer whatever the doctor tells you can and will change. With more information they get a better idea of what you are dealing with and just like a football game in the 4th quarter with 2 minutes to go, they will be aggressive if it is needed, improvise and throw in a quarter back sneak.  My game plan changed several times. First I was going to have surgery and then chemo. After an MRI, they knew the size of the tumor and decided that since I had cancer in my lymph nodes I should go through chemo first. (Oh, and all those tests I had in September- my surgeon looked at the CT scan and he saw enlarged lymph nodes. The radiologist was looking for something else, so it wasn’t caught until my surgeon pulled up the CT scan pictures in December). Then the types of chemo and number of treatments changed- or maybe my mind was just too overloaded to grasp it all.

I started chemotherapy a few days after Christmas, and I finished the last round of chemo at the end of May in 2008. I won’t go into the details except to say chemo felt like going through a very long tunnel. I rationally knew there was another side to the tunnel, but being in the midst of it I couldn’t see the light. For me, fatigue was one of the worst side effects. No matter how much I slept I was never rested. It’s described as being tired from the inside out. Imagine being too tired to sit on the couch and watch a movie with your kids. Or, too tired to eat. Or wanting to sleep but that wasn’t even enough. (Since going through chemo, now whenever I see someone who is going through treatments, I try not to say “you look so good”, I try to ask them how they are feeling and listen to them. I lost a lot of weight during treatments and even though people told me I “looked good,” I didn’t feel good). 
The next step after chemo was surgery. This turned into 2 surgeries because the margins weren’t good.  (The surgeon will cut out the tumor with a bit of good tissue around it. Then the pathologist will look at the tumor under the microscope. They hope that the margin of good tissue around the tumor will be clear of cancer). With cancer you want them to get it all.

Radiation wasn’t in the plan for me, because I had a mastectomy, but in December of 2008 I found out that I needed that as well. Apparently because the cancer didn’t respond to chemo as they had hoped, the size of the tumor, cancer in the lymph nodes, and it was a high grade cancer all added up to 6 weeks of radiation.

I have had several friends who have had cancer. Several who have had radiation. People will talk about the radiation induced fatigue but no one really tells you about the burns. The nurses tell you it is different for every patient, some just get a little pink. Some get 2nd degree burns. I was the latter group. I’m not discounting the benefits of radiation therapy.  I met a woman in the waiting room. She was on her 4th relapse of cancer. She said wherever she had radiation the cancer did not return. Good stuff. Strong, but good. Thankfully the skin heals, but the scaring underneath lasts forever.

I finally finished my last treatment at the end of March that year. My surgeon originally told me that cancer treatments would last 8 to 9 months. It ended up taking 16 months. Towards the end of treatments, and during radiation, I had time to reflect on my life and realized I needed to make some changes. I got certified as a Spin Instructor and at the end of May that year I began teaching. I slowly worked my way back into running. I tried to be careful with doing too much because I seemed to get fatigued easily (and the radiation scarred my lungs).

At the end of the summer in 2010 I competed in a mini triathlon. It was a 400 yard swim, 8 mile bike and 3.1 mile run. Of all the events in the triathlon, the one that worries me the most is swimming. (Ironic, since I swam Masters after college, grew up swimming in Lake Michigan every day of my childhood and I coach an age group swim team). After all the surgeries and radiation I have a lot of scar tissue and limited range of motion in my arm and shoulder. I made it through that tri (barely) and was happy to get out of the water without too much pain.

At the beginning of this summer, Millie’s dad asked me to join the 3 P’s when they competed in the Naperville Triathlon. I decided to give it a shot and hoped that the sprint distance wouldn’t tax my arm/shoulder too much. (I found a great Naprapath in the building where I work. Although I’m always going to have struggles with my arm and shoulder, it has improved to the point where I can swim almost a mile without muscle spasms). Teaching Spin classes is generally how I do my bike training, though I found I have to spend time on my bike outside of class. A road bike fits different than a Spin bike and it’s important to know how it feels before race day.  

We competed in the Tri on August 14 and it was a great day and a great event. I’ve usually gone to events by myself so it was a really nice change to be with the group. Pre-event nerves lessen a bit when you have some friends to commiserate with you.  We all arrived at the race together, got numbered, and our spots in the transition zone  were close to one another. We separated as we went to our various spots for the swim, but we all arrived at the finish within a short time of each other, and capped off the day with a group breakfast, sharing stories of the event and comparing possible races for the rest of this season and  next year.

I don’t know if it’s a result of my cancer diagnosis and treatment, or just getting older, but when I train and compete, my main goal is to have a good time. One of my friends owns our local running store. His pre-race advice to me was to keep smiling. It’s funny, but I really think that helped. We all struggle at times during racing and training, but somehow smiling makes it seem a little easier, and definitely more fun.  So, while I am cautiously optimistic about how good I have been feeling, I’m keeping the smile on my face for good luck. 


domwillrunforbeer said...

Such an inspiring story! Thank you for sharing. :)

KLA said...

Thanks Margaret for your story!

maurine said...

That was a great story Margaret. I have noticed a certain glow about you this summer. You have worked hard and it shows. Keep up the good work. You are and always will be an inspiration to me and to the many other lives you touch daily. I love you sister.

Michele said...

So inspirational and moving! Thanks for your sharing your life's story!