Scatter my ashes here...

Scatter my ashes here...
scatter my ashes in the desert...

Friday, June 17, 2016

Seeing Things

First, some running news I am so excited to share. Yesterday I got 15 miles on my feet, I walked 5 miles after my 10 mile run. Then today I went out in the heat again and did 20 miles, and ran most of it, at least 16 of the miles. I was out for 4 hours and ran over 3 hours of it. I felt good, much better than I ever thought I would. Not a struggle at all.

That is encouraging because I want to be able to go for 12 hours in the September Fatass and it sure would be nice to at least do what I did last time, which was 50 miles. It would be a real boost for me if I felt like I could get some ultra miles in.

Yesterday I left off in a partial rant about healthcare, and I wanted to say more things.

Suicide
The other night I was in the class I teach twice a month for cancer survivors. I bring in guest speakers frequently who discuss different topics of interest. Mostly about therapeutic exercise and movement, but occasionally I'll find someone who has a different area of expertise, such as biofeedback practitioners, psychotherapists, and so on. This week we had a guest speaker on healthy communication. She did talk about that, but her talk went far beyond and touched a very deep chord with me.

She was talking about mental health, she lost her son to suicide more than 10 years ago. He'd struggled with his mental health most of his life, and was a creative, sensitive person, and it sounded like he struggled with fitting in. He finally got to the point where it was too painful for him to cope with life, and probably wasn't getting the level of treatment he needed.

Whatever the events that led to his death, she was talking about the note he left and the poems he wrote prior to his death. She said even when he was a young child, he drew pictures, and he always drew them from the inside out. She knew he saw the world differently than most people.

The whole time she was talking about him, I was having a hard time turning off the faucet. Tears were streaming down my face and I could not stop them. The next day when I wrote to her to thank her, I had to tell her how much her story affected me, and why.

Square Pegs
This world does not make it easy on people who are the square pegs, who see things differently, who exist outside the box. There are only certain molds that are acceptable to fit into, and if you don't fit into one of them, it's a difficult existence. Add to that a tendency toward depression, anxiety, or other mental health struggles, and our lack of mental health care, and you have a recipe for a lot of bad things to happen.

The problem with the square pegs is that since they don't fit in, they are not accepted, and therefore, not "seen". People only see what they are looking for, and what they want to see. Similar to hearing...

At times it can feel like you're screaming at the top of your lungs, and no one can hear you. Like you're trapped, maybe with locked-in syndrome.

The reason it affected me so much to listen to the story of her son was because I have struggled myself. Some of the things her son said in his poems were things I have thought, for myself, almost in the exact same words. Like when he said he looked forward to the relief that death would bring. I've been there. I've thought that. Yes, I have. More than once, more than a few times.

No, it's not something I obsess about or ruminate on, but I know that place. I am fortunate, I've managed to find plenty of ways to head off depression from overtaking me and pulling me down. But I've had enough difficulty in fitting in, being the square peg, in so many ways and situations in my life, that I can relate.

I have questioned why I am on this planet more times than I can tell you. Somehow, between Dennis, running, my dogs, and the beautiful outdoors of Colorado where I live, a little pharmaceutical help and occasional therapy over the years like cognitive behavioral therapy and EMDR, I've been able to find the will to keep going, to keep from jumping off a bridge or drowning in a bathtub.

Talking About Mental Health is Healthy
I know I'm not alone. I know there are more people who have had these sorts of thoughts cross their minds than will ever admit it, out of fear of the stigma of being labeled as mentally ill, or somehow not up to par. I think what we mislabel as mental illness is really a combination of a normal human reaction to the insanity of our environment and the way we are expected to live our lives, with the incredible burden of stress, coupled with each individual's genetic and functional makeup of their brain.

We need to quit making this world so hard to live in. That's a tall order- economically, politically, educationally, being humane and supportive and accepting each others' human-ness, instead of forcing everyone to be wireless production robots who are constantly connected, with no OFF switch.

Be Real
When people see that other people struggle, it validates them. It makes them stronger. They know they are not alone and they don't feel the need to hide those feelings, or at least, they can admit it to themselves more easily. I might have a tendency toward depression, but I am not mentally ill because of it, I am not abnormal because of it, I am not insane or incompetent because of it.

I really truly believe that the way I see the world is okay. It's not easy to live in it as a result, but I think I'm pretty damn sane! I know what I value, I know what's important to me, and I won't compromise on those things because someone insists I fit into their round hole and stay there.

You know what happens when they put you in the round hole? They expect you to stay there. And there you are, in the confines of the walls of the hole and you can't grow or breathe or do anything different. Stuck. Stagnant. Until they let you out. But you know what? They're not going to let you out, because it serves their purpose well. They want you to stay right there so they can control everything, without tripping over you.

That's the problem with us square pegs- we get in the way. Instead of everything being smooth and easy, people trip over us, because they don't see us.

Someone Else's Gift Does Not Diminish You
I have a lot of talents, "gifted" is a label I've been slapped with. I can write, I can paint, I'm a decent athlete, I'm smart about most things, I think creatively and deeply about things. The one thing I've never been talented at is making money or sticking to a "job" for very long, because I start to feel like I'm trapped. I get claustrophobic when I get roped into a big organization that demands Stepford-ness. I cannot make myself stay in a situation where I feel like my thoughts, ideas, freedom, and existence are being usurped and oppressed.

For many people, they are able to forget the bullshit they are wading in, and not worry about it, move forward, go through the motions, put up and shut up, and collect a paycheck, on and on, year after year. I cannot do that. I have tried, but only could deal with it for a brief time. Eventually it's like I need to crawl out of my skin. It makes me sick, physically, and mentally. I've suffered my worst depression at those times.

My mom, with whom I don't have a relationship, told me I used to drive her crazy, that's why she put me in preschool at 2 1/2 and kindergarten at age 4. According to her, she made the school give me an IQ test to prove to them that I really was some kind of gifted kid so they would let me in. I must have passed. The problem is when you stick those square pegs in with the round ones. They stick out, and are noticed as different, and not in a good way.

Why not nurture a gift and appreciate it? Kids know when someone is different. It's only when they learn from adults that it's okay to treat them differently. In adults, it's even worse. Adults backstab, gossip, undermine, and act out on envy of the gifted person's talents. Bullying, hostility, mean girls, ice queens, you know the rest...especially if you're a nurse, I might add...

When I wrote to thank the woman who was the guest speaker talking about her son, I told her why her story affected me so much. And she said in her reply to me, keep being not normal. Many normal people are driving the rest of us crazy. We need you for balance.

I know that. I've had to hang on to that, knowing that I might just be one of the few sane ones in an insane world. Sometimes that's all I have to hang onto, if I'm going to believe in myself and keep going forward.

So what does this all have to do with healthcare?
Well...for one thing, the medical model that trains physicians and that the rest of the healthcare providers and staff have to live with, does not train physicians to see outside of their very narrow focus and scope. And the way healthcare works, the big healthcare organizations limit the amount of time physicians have to explore ideas outside the box.

The insurance companies have a lot of clout in determining what can be done, because they only cover things based on agreements between healthcare systems and their mutual bean counters. And what does this mean for the patient? They are limited in what services they can use and/or afford.

We can't just allow everyone to use every possible service and have it covered by insurance- that would be crazier than what we have now. And people without medical training don't know why certain things are necessary or not necessary.

But the problem is that there are a lot of services that would be beneficial for patients but physicians don't know about them, or don't acknowledge them. They don't SEE them, because they don't fit within the narrow model in which they were trained.

Physicians Are Human, Mortal,and No Different From Anyone Else
So when physicians (and not all physicians, mind you...some are much more worldly, humane, and empathetic than others) see their patients, in a cancer setting, for example, the physician tends to look at success as having saved a life, not whether that life is of good quality. Being alive becomes more important than living life well. So when the patient complains of lasting effects from cancer treatment, the physician might say, "Well, at least you're alive."

Which is a shitty thing to say to someone when they come to you complaining about something that obviously is affecting their quality of life, or they wouldn't have said anything about it in the first place. "Validate my pain" is the first request the patient is making. At least, acknowledge that this is real, doc, it's not in my head. Just because you don't know the answer doesn't mean answers don't exist. They might just be someplace you haven't looked. "Help me find the answers", is what the patient is saying.

The struggle I am having as I introduce my business idea, is when physicians don't know what to do with it. They see that it's exactly what they want their patients to have after treatment, but it's not being done by a physician. A nurse?

It makes total sense, but it's just hard for them to wrap their heads around the fact that someone other than a physician could actually provide a service that promotes health and quality of life, because quality of life isn't even in their field of vision- that's not what they learn in medical school- and nurses?

Well, aren't they the ones who take vitals and call us when the patient is deteriorating, or when they need an order for medication? The fact that nurses could provide a valuable service that might help a person in their everyday life, between doctor appointments...not even on the radar.

New ideas are hard for people to accept because they don't see them. They haven't even thought about it.

Being patient is not one of my virtues. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I am dealing with people who are slow to process things. Yes, physicians are people. They are no smarter than the rest of us, I can assure you. They just had the stomach to put up with a lot of abuse through medical school. And then they continue to suffer those abuses in their professional lives.

And that my thoughts and ideas might come from a different universe with which they have never been familiar, they've never traveled there. It can take a while, if at all.

They might never have been challenged to open their eyes, and see. They've been taking multiple choice exams for so long, sometimes I wonder if all they know how to do is fill in the little circles, like the round holes that square pegs don't fit into. All you do when you try to shove square pegs into round holes is strip the corners. But they'll never fit right, no matter what you do. It's like the algorithms they are expected to follow with certain situations in the hospital. Often, one size fits none.

Physicians, I am not trying to disparage you. But it sure is frustrating when you can't sit down human to human and have a conversation with anyone who doesn't have the same set of letters behind their name as you do. But you are, at least in part, responsible for it being this way. I feel for you, I know the abuse you suffer. You have a high suicide rate in your profession. You can change it, too. Step out of the box, if you dare. Collaborate with others. Find ways to make it work. Start seeing the square pegs, maybe they can lead you in a different, and better direction.

So whatever I am able to accomplish in my lifetime, I hope it is just making people see things that they might otherwise have missed. And the rest of my time, I'm gonna enjoy my dogs: the next generation of puppies coming soon, the mountains, running, writing, painting when I can finally get around to that again, and drinking margaritas or great Colorado beer with Dennis and my other friends.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Back Up...Unloading!

Yeah, that's me. I have a lot to say. I've been hiding out, buried under piles of work. I needed to breathe, so I'm indulging myself in a little creative writing and unloading today.

It's been nearly a month since I've posted here! I don't like that, I try to be consistent, but I thank my readers and followers for sticking with me.
First, feast your eyes on South Park and the Arkansas River Valley near Buena Vista. Last weekend we went up to the shed, on our property overlooking Pikes Peak and South Park.

The reason for the long break is, as usual, work. I've been extra busy because I picked up a small project on the side in order to bring in a little income and that helped. Starting a business requires constant investment and re-investment, and when there isn't anything coming in at the beginning, it depletes your reserves quickly.

But that's okay because I am doing what is important to me.

So first, a few minor orders of business. I finally, after 8 1/2 years, bought the domain alenegonebad.com so now you can find me without having to type in the extra blogspot stuff. Takes you right back here. No change.

I haven't been running much. This morning I did run for an hour and a half. It finally got hot, in the 90s, and might hit 100 by the end of the week. I guess that's what it takes to motivate me to run?

I am planning on running/walking an event over Labor Day. My friend Marissa is putting on her 12 hour fatass "There Goes the Sun" on September 3, and I'm "training". That means I am getting out and walking with a little running mixed in. Shooting for being able to stay upright and moving forward for the entire 12 hours.

The weekend before last I went running/hiking Round Mountain with my friend Emma and we encountered two unhappy snakes, one bull snake, one rattlesnake. Got a good closeup of the rattler.


You know where this is going...Orlando, of course. And I am so disgusted, but something feels like this was a turning point. It's disgusting to see the party of homophobia suddenly saying all these platitudes (because you know they are only posturing in an election year)about the LGBTQ community. Just last month they wanted birth certificates to go to the bathroom, and so on.

The gun thing is finally shifting too. #NRASTFU is what I say. The refusal of the gun lobby to have a mature, intelligent conversation about reality, and their endless excuses as if the second amendment is some sort of divine ruling from the heavens. They freaking worship guns, and the second amendment is their god.There is no reason why any group should have so much power, that they can even prevent research into gun (safety) violence as a public health issue. That is insane. And we continue to have all these shootings and gun deaths day after day. Like little boys throwing a temper tantrum. There are some girls in there, too, but the leadership is mostly men. That's part of the problem with everything in this country, and it looks like it's about to change in a big way.

And I'm sure those misogynistic pasty old white dudes explaining righteously(M-POWDERs) will be just as obstructionistic toward Hillary Clinton as they were toward Barack Obama. Except they might lose their majority after all the nonsense and putting their clown lineup on display, to show the pathetic lack of substance and outright denial of the real issues facing the people of this country. A breath of fresh air, that would be, if the whole damn Republican party imploded. And let's clearcut and burn the Democratic party too. Start over. With real people, who look like the ones in the general population, not a bunch of POWDERS! We could finally make some forward progress.


Okay, back to earth. What's real. Good news first.

A Twinkle in the Eye...

After searching for several months, we found an Australian Shepherd breeder we like in Nebraska, just 5 hours from here, and we decided to splurge and put a deposit down on two puppies, to arrive either late this year or early next. They are not even a twinkle in the eye of some Aussie dude yet, but we are expecting.

We plan to get two girls again, at least one black tri, maybe one black and one red. We are looking forward to puppy-proofing the house and some of the work we will do this summer involves checking out garage sales for things like baby gates, agility equipment and toys for the girls. We'll have to puppy-proof parts of the house and the garden.

We miss Iris and Isabelle so much, every single day. We were going to take their ashes to the place we planned, but we weren't ready. We're not ready for pups yet, but we are moving closer. I miss having my buddies around!

Life & Death

Three of my running friends have been diagnosed with cancer in the past few months. It's been tough seeing them go through their separate situations. One of them, an ultra buddy of mine, is fortunate to have had an early diagnosis, and I hope the outcome will be as good as it can be. The other two have quite advanced cancer. One is young, the other is older but not old. Also, one of my neighbors, in his 80s, also received bad news about his own advanced cancer. He's been active, walked everyday and we had many occasions to walk together and talk. He always was a friend to Iris and Isabelle. He's a fascinating person, and he is the most spiritually healthy person I know.

I'm going to miss him and my other, older friend who is being treated to manage symptoms. She has prepared herself too, and I am proud of her for taking the steps to do what no one wants to do.

Death runs in the family. It does in mine, anyway, I don't know if your relatives are immortal. I certainly wouldn't have wanted some of mine to stick around forever. I definitely don't want to. We're all going to die. Let's confront it, accept it, and plan for it, before we find out the end is closer than we expected, so we can have a good death as the end to a good life.

I wish that more people would examine their own mortality and face it, because it makes things so much less chaotic, it's better for everyone around them to know that they've thought through it, decided what they want, and are okay with it. But we have a long way to go in this country. Our collective immaturity has deemed us the world's teenager. Impulsive, without a fully developed frontal lobe. Thinking only of ourselves and not of the person next to us, or how our own actions, or lack thereof, affect them.

Clinical Trials and Boob Smashing

Speaking of life and family and cancer, I just enrolled in a clinical trial, because of my extensive family history of cancer, especially leukemias. The trial was looking for people over 50, never diagnosed with cancer, with a strong family history of it. It involves genetic testing and looking for early cancer markers. I'll find out the results, too. I realize that I might find out something I'd rather not know about or have to deal with, but knowledge is power.

I'll be getting my blood drawn next week for that. I'm excited to be a lab rat. It's so hard to get subjects for clinical trials, and they are absolutely necessary for us to advance our state of knowledge about cancer and how to treat it. So if you have the opportunity, please participate in one. You never know who, down the road, might benefit or even have their life saved by your participation.

Since we're on the subject, I decided to also splurge on a 3D mammogram when I go in next month. Breast Tomosynthesis is the name of the screening. It gives a 3D picture, actually about 11 different images from different angles. Also I heard they don't smash your boob as hard, which is good news for me, because that hurts! It's a good way to get a better image especially in people with dense breast tissue, like me. I'm dense. I'll have a report on it here, of course.

I have some other topics to touch on. Mental health is another one. And I have more, much more to say about healthcare, as you know it's one of my favorite rant topics. But I'll get to that later. I'll be back, I've missed blogging and I am starting to miss running. I wish I had more than a few days a week where I felt motivated to take running steps rather than walking. But I still feel fine when I run most of the way in a 10 mile outing, like I did today.

Scroll down and enjoy the rest of the photos from last weekend. Most are from our property but many are from the Colorado Trail and areas nearby. So great to live here, and to hang out in the shadow of the Buffalo Peaks and looking out across lower South Park at Pikes Peak.

When I have those difficult days, I just need to remember I am surrounded by so much good. Working alone, feeling like it's a forever uphill climb, and feeling like the world wants to duct tape your mouth so your voice is muffled, and they pretend they don't understand you, but really, they do, but it's just too hard for them to gather the courage to climb out of the box.

I'll keep being myself, even if I'm a lone voice (which I know I'm not) and at a distinct disadvantage because of power and resources (which I will not allow to stop me) and I'm just going to keep getting louder.


Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Spring Empowerment

I have been super busy, and not running much, though I am doing quite a bit of walking. I've done about 55 miles a week on my feet for the last 3 weeks. I have so much work and replying to people, that I just take my phone with me and walk the bike paths and get my work done. I did get 20 miles in one day last week, though I only ran an hour and a half of it.

This morning I participated in a "boot camp", for a group I've joined of like minded healthcare people who want to change things to do a better job of caring for the patient. I spent a couple of hours listening to the other people in the small group and working on telling my own story, which was very empowering for me. I've told it before, in different parts, but I finally sat down and wrote the whole thing out, leaving out a few things I would like to have said but really were just me blowing off steam.

It felt so good to finally tell it, and I plan to tell it in various ways in front of small and large groups in the near future. When you tell your story, it brings up emotions in other people who can relate to the same feelings.

I've been trying to back off on the expectations of myself with running because every time I think I've overcome my lack of motivation, I take two steps back. I love getting out and walking, it's not helping my clothes fit any better, but at least I am being outdoors and moving.

We started looking at puppies. Talking to breeders in Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska. I'd say there's a pretty good chance that by this time next year we will have two Australian Shepherd puppies. The next generation.

I have been busy doing research, finding people who want to do research, marketing my services, speaking to groups in person and online, writing blogposts, and talking to a lot of people all over the U.S. and Canada, too.

I just wish I could feel like running. I have no problem getting out the door but I don't know where Alene the runner went. Maybe I'll find her. Maybe not. Maybe it will take a couple of Australian Shepherd pups to drag me along to get me to run again.

Maybe I'm content to sit here in the woman cave watching the sunset throw light on the back wall of the house, lighting up the new green leaves across the yard, watching the delphinium grow taller every day until they pop open with bright purple blooms, which should be any day now.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

What Needs Fixing!

Speaking of things that need fixing, it's Nurses' Week.

Don't EVEN get me started, because that's not what I want to talk about.

What I do want to talk about is the awesome performance by John Oliver (see video below) the other night talking about the mockery and entertainmentization of science.

This is the thing that gives me fits, day in and out, as a healthcare professional. But it applies to running too!

Cancer is one of the most heavily affected areas of commerce and research when it comes to bad science. There is more misinformation than good information, and it's a uphill battle to fight it. I hate the battle terminology around cancer. I am using "battle" in the sense of beating back the onslaught of scams and pseudoscience that prey on fearful, vulnerable and desperate people.

This applies not only to healthcare but also to anything- these trends that come and go, the popularization of things like supplements or products or running shoe designs, running techniques, what an elite runner swears by so everyone follows along regardless whether it is backed by evidence or common sense, like a bacon diet or running with one eye closed.

Here's what I thought after watching John Oliver.

The problem is that the meaning and purity of science have been diluted by a “science as entertainment” approach in the media. Since everything in the media is based on selling-, which is attracting viewers for advertising, they are going to use sensationalism and eye-catching headlines.

There is no integrity in what they report. And this lack of integrity extends to the people who are putting out press releases that reach the wrong media outlets.

It’s one thing for knowledgeable readers who understand the meaning of “a study”. But the lay public does not. And this has led to the dilution of and confusion of important information, and no one knows what to believe, as Oliver points out so perfectly- cherry picking what you do or don’t want to believe.

And that is what is so frustrating- for health care providers and for people who are trying to provide good information- it gets diluted and washed out in the tide of pseudoscience.

Like the whole gluten thing. People just deciding to be gluten-free because they heard or read somewhere that it's bad. Then a gazillion "gluten-free" products and services become available, and everyone jumps on board, whether or not they understand it. Then you get a bunch of contamination, and the people who truly need to be gluten-free (those with celiac disease), are hurt by it. And the people who don't need to be gluten-free end up enriching the coffers of those who sell the product without any demonstrated benefit to their health.  
Oliver goes on to explain that repetition of a study, having enough subjects, stringent methodology, being published in a peer-reviewed and edited journal combined with the lack of funding for research and the pressure to produce results that are provocative or will sell things, create a problem for the quality of the research that creates a body of evidence.

Then we hear about agencies making decisions based on political appointments, or ties to industry, or other means of corruption. And people are not science-literate enough to understand the difference between scams and real science, and they only know to listen to the media entertainment version, so the most provocative-sounding, attractive, entertaining, and eye-catching content is going to catch the viewers' and customers' attention instead of what is science.

How to solve the problem? Do we place stricter standards on what can be told to the media? How do you stop a train with no brakes? There’s no regulation or control over what happens to the information.
My preference would be to educate the public and increase their science literacy. But our education system is suffering from similar problems: lack of funding, and people who don’t understand what happens on the application, human-interactive level making the decisions. Just like in healthcare.
When it hits them in  the wallet, people do seem to understand. So perhaps showing them the kind of mistakes they could make and how much it could cost them would help.

What we really need is critical thinking. People, whatever divine being you believe in, or not, gave you a brain, so use it. Damn it.

 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

What Athletes Should Know About Cancer Part 2

If you're coming here from Amy's blog, welcome! This is part two of the two part blogpost on athletes and cancer.

Know how to support someone who is diagnosed

For an athlete diagnosed with cancer, the decision to tell others is difficult. They are afraid enough for their life, not to mention losing their friends, their sport, and their social network around it.
When they tell, the lay experts come out of the woodwork like termites- suddenly everyone becomes an armchair oncology expert, especially when it comes to nutrition. Resist the urge.

Don’ts
1. Don’t tell them about alternative treatments that you’ve heard of, or that you read somewhere about a study that showed some type of special juice cured cancer. Their LIFE is at stake here. If we knew the juice cured cancer, we’d all be drinking it.
2. Don’t imply that they did something to cause their cancer. Don’t try to figure out why. You’ll come off as contemptful or judgmental, not to mention what this does to your friend with cancer who is already overwhelmed.
3. Don’t freak out, look up statistics on their type of cancer, or give them information off the Internet. Let their doctors practice medicine and do what they do best- treat cancer. It might be hard to put yourself in their shoes, but try. If you had cancer, wouldn’t you want to choose the treatment that had the most evidence for success and rely on experts who have been trained specifically in treating cancer?
4. Don’t make assumptions, no matter how well-meaning you are, that they can “beat” cancer, tell them they are a “fighter”. Some people don’t want to hear this. If they do, then great, give them the support they want. Ask them what they want.
5. If someone is being treated for cancer, don’t recommend supplements or antioxidants to them. The chemotherapy is intended to kill cells. That’s what you want to do in the case of cancer. You want oxidative stress and free radicals. Otherwise you’re counteracting the chemotherapy.
6. If they are getting chemo, don’t give them fresh fruits or vegetables, fresh flowers or plants, expose them to pets or sick kids, and avoid going to see them if you’re sick. Their immune system is going to be weak until after they recover from chemo. This is not the time to bring them kale and chia smoothies unless their cancer doctors say it’s okay.

Dos
1. Go here and click on the body parts to get some basic tips on supporting someone with cancer.
2. If you’re finding yourself so freaked out by your friend who has cancer, examine your own reasons for your freak out. Do you have some of your own issues that are unresolved? Maybe this is a chance for you to get some counseling for yourself so you can give better support to the person with cancer.
3. Remember, it’s not about you. THEY have cancer, not you. You have your health. Use the abundant energy that you were blessed with to help them. Do some footwork, offer to do laundry, errands, things they don’t have the energy for. Walk the dog, clean the yard, shovel snow. Use some of your own precious training time to do something for them. That shows you care.

If you are diagnosed- it doesn’t automatically mean the end of your athletic career.

1. First, you’re going to panic. That’s normal. But I’m going to tell you this, as hard as it is, as an athlete, you need to take your lifestyle into consideration when talking with your doctors.
2. Even though your first impulse might be: “Cut it out of me and get it over with!”, what you do and how you approach surgery and treatment decisions can make a big impact on your ability to recover and resume your sport, and your comfort in doing so. Take your time, it will be worth it in the long run.
3. Don’t be pressured into choosing any one method of treatment. Make sure you ask the doctor how it will impact participation in your sport, and at the level you hope to achieve. Get a second opinion if you’re not convinced it’s right for you. If you can find a doctor who is an athlete, that’s even better.
4. Cancer is very rarely an immediate life-threatening emergency. You should take the time to discuss any decisions with your oncologists, breast surgeons, urologist, plastic surgeons, radiation oncologist, or anyone else in your care. For example: certain reconstruction methods may be better for some athletes than others. If you use your upper body a lot in your sport, make sure your doctor understands how important your sport is to you.
5. The way they approach radiation treatment, which chemotherapy they use, the type of surgery, and any reconstruction can make an impact on your ability to return to and recover your ability to do your sport. Prostate cancer treatments can also impact your comfort in returning to running and other activities.
6. Depending on what type of cancer it is, you might need some combination of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or other treatments. It’s not easy, it’s not fun, and it takes time. Athletes are known for not giving up, for having endurance, and believing in themselves. You can use these mental skills in coping with cancer treatment and recovery, plus the determination to come back.
7. Athletes also start out in better health than most patients giving them an edge. They are also more likely to be able to continue some form of exercise during treatment, which helps them throughout the process and in recovering faster.

It’s not over when it’s over, so don’t forget support afterwards

1. After cancer treatment it can take a lot of time and effort to recover. While athletes have an advantage, there is still a lot of physical, emotional, and even social recovery for athletes with cancer.
2. After treatment they have to regain their strength and fitness. They might be anemic, have lost muscle mass, or range of motion. They can feel abandoned by their workout buddies. Remember them. Don’t let your own athletic goals get in the way of being a friend to them. Make time even if it’s not in a workout, or offer to do an easy workout with them.
3. Don’t expect them to jump right back into racing and training. It can take a while, but often, they can come back, and sometimes, stronger than ever.

Cancer Harbors is an online service that is designed for people after cancer treatment, as a guide to recovering. It has special material and support for athletes with cancer, to help them physically and psychologically recover their strength and confidence. Emotional and social support, with coaching and guidance. It is for anyone, including non-athletes, who need help in the anxiety-filled year after they leave their cancer doctors behind. It’s a thoughtful way to support a friend who is going through cancer treatment, to give them the edge in recovering and getting back to the sport they love. It’s also a great way to learn more about cancer in general. To find out how to give a gift of Cancer Harbors, visit here.

What Athletes Should Know About Cancer Part 1

Athletes are great examples to others. We take care of our health better than most, we get plenty of physical activity, don’t gain unhealthy amounts of weight, tend to balance our lives, and have more positive attitudes.

We go outdoors, have more energy, and avoid unhealthy habits like sitting in front of the TV eating garbage. We set goals and achieve them, see the country and the world, and know how to have a good time.

When I’m not running, I’m an oncology nurse and cancer recovery coach. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard from a patient diagnosed with cancer, “I don’t understand how I got cancer. I ate organic foods, had a perfect diet, exercised, never smoked, avoided toxins, managed my stress...why did this happen to me?”… all those dollars would do wonders for my race bucket list.

The truth is, based on our current state of scientific understanding, we cannot absolutely prevent most cancers. Certainly there is a ton of evidence that exercise and healthy living can prevent chronic disease and make you more likely to live a healthier life and be more independent into old age.

I’m not saying it’s futile, or you should give up, sit on the couch and eat trash out of bag until you roll onto the floor in a sugar coma. I do want you to understand that being an athlete will not absolutely protect you.

We don’t do a very good job of educating the public about a disease that is likely to strike somewhere between one-third and one-half of us during our lifetimes. There’s a lot of misinformation, and that can lead to completely over-the-top, irrational fear.

What cancer is

Cancer is a wide range of diseases with a common characteristic: something goes wrong in the way the cells regulate growth, and results in uncontrolled cell growth. It happens at the molecular level, in the cell’s genetic material.

Cancer is not one disease, so there is no such thing as a single cure for cancer.

There are hundreds of different varieties of cancer, they all behave differently. That’s why they are all treated differently. What one person gets for cancer treatment can be completely different than what another person gets for cancer, even if their cancers started in the same part of the body.

Many people still equate cancer with death, and our society is in extreme denial when it comes to facing our mortality. Athletes often trick themselves into thinking their sport will give them immunity. Sorry to break the news, but your running shoes won’t protect you.

But the good news is, athletes are gifted with qualities that will often help them get through treatment and recover in a lot better shape than non-athletes. Determination, endurance, positive attitude, willingness to tolerate discomfort, and overall physical fitness are key qualities in achieving good outcomes during and after cancer treatment.

Fear and Judgment

Anyone can develop cancer, and it doesn’t mean you did something wrong. From what we know now, evidence seems to show that other than hereditary risk (mutations passed down in your family), and certain exposures and behaviors we know that are associated with cancer (like asbestos, smoking), it’s unpredictable. The older you get, the more likely it is that you will have it, and you might not even know it. Sometimes you might not even have to do anything about it and it won’t kill you.

Cancer does kill people, but not nearly as often as it used to. Sometimes it’s bad luck- some people’s cancers are undetectable until a very late stage. Don’t assume it’s the person’s fault for not getting screened. It’s important not to judge.

No one is saying you shouldn’t fear something that is potentially life-threatening. But a little knowledge goes a long way- in terms of early detection, managing anxiety, and coping in case it does happen to you or someone you care about.

Cancer concepts and misconceptions

  1. Prevention. People confuse screening and early detection efforts with prevention. You really can’t completely prevent most cancers. Mammograms, pap smears, and colonoscopies don’t prevent cancer. They screen for it in hopes that it will be detected early enough to be treatable. By taking care of yourself, eating right and exercising, what you are really doing is reducing the risk, or likelihood, that you will develop cancer. Risk is based on statistics in the general population.
  2. Early detection and screening. Squeamish is no excuse. Suck it up and get a colonoscopy. Don’t be so vain…believe me, they’ve seen plenty of butts, yours is no big deal. I promise you they won’t remember what yours looked like, even if you run into your doctor on the street.
  3. Know your family history. If anyone in your family has cancer, let your doctor know. This is reason enough to make sure you do your screenings. If several people in your family have cancer, ask your doctor about genetic counseling. Really. It doesn’t hurt one bit and it might save your life or someone else’s in your family. (Counseling first, never jump into testing)
  4. Learn about it- from the right sources. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) is a good place to start http://cancer.gov Don’t ask Dr. Google.
  5. Use caution when reading online or ads. Here’s a great place to visit if you have questions about a study or claim you read: http://healthnewsreview.org Anything that says, “a study” showed… One study is not a body of evidence. Studies need to be repeated, on large numbers of people, put through rigorous trials on humans under strict conditions, study conditions and findings examined for bias by experts, and published in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

On to Part Two...

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Spring in Fort Collins

I'm enjoying spring here and May is still ahead, the most colorful month this side of summer solstice.

Yesterday was a typical Fort Collins spring day. A walk on the Power Trail, some yard work, followed by a trip to New Belgium brewery and all the local breweries were packed full of people.

We met some friends, had a few samples of new beer. I tried some kind of seasonal melon summer brew, it was light with just a hint of melon- I liked it.

Later we met with some other friends from Dennis's running days at Western State College. One of the guys on the team was visiting from DC, so a bunch of us got together for dinner and caught up on life in general nearly 30 years after they were teammates on the cross country and track teams.

Laughing about slowing down, gravity, gray hair, baldness, and reading glasses. And of course, rehashing some of the old crazy antics from their college days.

I'm just planning for my week ahead, I will go out and get a few miles in today. It looks like rain. Everything is getting green and blooming. Just a few scenes from around town over the past few days on my runs:
Not much else to report. It sure is nice here.