I Completed a Triathlon After Cancer!

By PMP Pal Appendix Cancer Survivor, Jeanne

I participated my first triathlon after I had cancer.  For many years prior to cancer I had thought about being in a triathlon - it would be a real physical accomplishment! What a way to impress friends!  Just the word triathlon invokes a sense of awe.  Most people think of the Ironman with its grueling distances.  The triathlon I chose was a shorter distance, called sprint distance - 1/3 mile swim, 9 mile bike, and 2.4 mile run.

While in my thirties, as my three sons became more self-sufficient, I had taken up bike riding and particularly enjoyed riding with my bike club.  Shortly after turning 40, my bike riding was briefly interrupted when I was diagnosed with melanoma.  It was caught early only required one surgery.

Following a complete recovery, I rode around the lake near our house feeling more powerful than ever because I had beaten “The Big C”.  I reasoned that the chances of getting cancer again were miniscule. I vowed to myself that I would still be pedaling this bicycle around this lake when I was 50!  The idea that I would participate in a triathlon one day was still there - I figured there was plenty of time.

Over the next four years, cancer returned two more times interrupting my reverie that I would do a triathlon one day.  This time I was diagnosed with appendiceal cancer. Two abdominal cytoreductive surgeries with HIPEC, each requiring a month in the hospital, and three months recovery, put me at a physical low.

I flirted with discouragement that I would ever even ride my bicycle again.  Yet, as I walked and trained and slowly built myself back up, I started to ride again and my thoughts turned back to participating in a triathlon.  It felt impossible.  I felt like I could never get up that much energy and stamina.  That’s when I took a risk and pursued it with renewed vigor.  To complete a triathlon became a statement to me - a statement that I am now a healthy woman!

I expected my biggest challenge to be the physical exertion necessary to train in order to complete the course.  I soon found out my biggest challenge was not physical, but emotional.  Repeatedly, I had to face fear that plagued me with doubts.  First my fear told me I shouldn’t sign up because I’m making an unattainable commitment.  I faced that fear by reaching out to others and recruited my son and a friend to sign up with me.  Then my fear told me I’m too weak to train reminding me I’m a cancer patient.  I faced that fear one night during a training swim when I felt tired yet repeated to myself with each stroke, “I am a healthy woman, I am a healthy woman.”

As race day approached, fear persisted and I compared myself to others who appeared healthier than I.  Afraid I may not complete the event, I joked about just wanting to finish it with some semblance of dignity!  As the race started, I became aware that there was no value in comparing.  I recognized that there was no competition with others, there was no performance requirement - all I had to do was relax and enjoy the experience!

As the race progressed, I did just that - I relaxed and enjoyed my sense of physical wellness.  I exhilarated in the downhill rush of the bike ride and the icy cold sprinkler showers during the run.  I delighted in crossing paths with my son and my friend.  I was warmed when I heard the encouraging yell of friends who came to watch.

As I crossed the finish line, I felt strong and satisfied!  My pre-cancer reverie had come true and I was elated that I had overcome the physical obstacles and faced the fear.  I claimed that “I am a healthy woman!”

Editor’s note: Jeanne has been a member of the PMP Pals’ Network since 1998 and has been cancer free for more than a decade!

Read other inspirational stories like this and view our Pals’ photo galleries on www.pmppals.org

Articles posted in “PMP Pals” and on www.pmppals.org are written from the perspective of patients and their family caregivers and are not intended to substitute for licensed professional legal or medical care. Each patient is unique and should seek the counsel of a licensed professional for their own specific case. Copyright © 2012 by/PMP Pals’ Network/All rights reserved. Visit us on the web at www.pmppals.org

Cancer Patients Are Not Losers!

It happened again today.

The front page of the local paper paid tribute to a local elementary school principal who died from cancer. The headline read “Mrs. Smith Loses Battle with Cancer.”

“Loses battle with cancer.”

What a slap in the face to the memory of Mrs. Smith. What a slap in the face to her grieving family, students and colleagues.

Mrs. Smith, the article continued, died at the age of 52, after battling cancer for nine years.

Nine years, ladies and gentlemen. Nine years of testing, chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.

Does anyone who endures nine years of cancer treatment, sound like a “loser” to you?

Cancer, or any chronic illness, is not for wimps and certainly not for losers. I have never known any cancer patient (and I know and have known thousands, many still living and some who have passed away) whom I would describe as “losers” or having “lost their battle.”

One only needs to take a look at the Memorials page on www.pmppals.org to see that there is not one single loser among the tributes. On the contrary; our memorials page is filled with tributes to    brave warriors.

I have always found it disturbing to hear that any cancer patient has “lost their battle with cancer.” Imagine if we referred to deceased soldiers as “Sgt. Jones’ body was returned to his family in the US for burial after he lost his battle with the Taliban.” The public, including family, friends, veterans’ groups and politicians would be outraged, by such a statement, and rightfully so.

As an incurable cancer patient who has been fighting a fifteen year battle I am outraged by what appear to be daily reports in the media of celebrities and neighbors down the street “losing their battle with cancer.” As a patient advocate who has witnessed the bravery of thousands of my fellow patients, I am offended.

Ad an editor who has written more obituaries than I care to count, I simply will not allow the phrase “lost their battle with cancer” to be included in any obituary that I post.

The human body was designed or evolved (take your pick) to live a finite number of years, give or take 75. One way or another, either due to chronic illness or so called “natural causes” the physical body expires.

 We don’t describe a deceased 76 year old who died of “natural causes” as having lost their battle with life. Whether a human dies as a 6 year old leukemia patient or a 76 year old with atherosclerosis, that person’s humanity and spirit far outlives a few mere decades of physical life.

The physical body is temporary. The essence the person who lived in that body is what we remember; what they taught us, how we enjoyed knowing that person, how having that person in our lives made us feel better, how that person contributed to the good of his/her family, community or the world…these are the factors that truly matter.

These are the factors of survivorship and survivors don’t lose the battles; their positive influence on those whose lives they touched while they were alive, always remain and lead to victory.

This is an excerpt from the book “Cancer Can’t Defeat Us!” by Gabriella Graham/ Copyright © 2012 by Red Tailed Hawk Publishing/All rights reserved.

Fred Suggests a Frank Discussion About Post Op Recovery!

By “Pal” member, Fred, from the USA

“A frequent concern that arises among patients who are planning to, or have had CRS and HIPEC, is the length of time required to recover.  A corollary to recovery time is what “recovery” actually means.   Before addressing these issues, I should emphasize that each patient’s experience will differ depending on a host of factors (e.g., age, general health, extent of tumors, type of cancer, invasiveness of surgery, etc.).  There is no simple rule of thumb to determine an expected recovery time.

What is recovery?  How do patients and surgeons define “recovery?”

This question is one that never occurred to me in my initial discussions with my surgeon; as a result there was a misunderstanding.  He did not mince words regarding the seriousness of my condition and the necessary surgery.  However, he indicated that I should be back to “normal” in a few months.  The problem was his idea of “normal” and mine were different.  I viewed “normal” as my state of health prior to developing the disease.  His notion was apparently being able to return to work and everyday activities free of the disease. 

In brief, my post operation weight dropped from about 150 to 109 before recovering to 118, which is my new “normal” (permanent weight loss is a common result of the surgery) and the necessary removal of various organs and sections of organs has had a major impact on my digestive system, which in turn has affected my quality of life in certain ways.  As I’ve often joked, I’ve developed a close personal relationship with my bathroom and have become much more aware of the locations of public facilities.  Thus, in one sense I’ve never “recovered” from the surgery; I have not returned to my prior state of health.

However, I did return to work, returned to my nature photography, and took up competitive table tennis after a 30 year hiatus. I am physically able to do most things I did pre surgery, including working out at a fitness center several times a week, but am acutely aware of the limits due to the digestive issues.

Time frame for recovery

My particular surgery was about 10 hours. I spent almost a month in the hospital before being released, then another few days a week later due to dehydration. 

At home, I began walking around the neighborhood gradually lengthening the time and distance as I felt stronger   I was able to return to my desk job on a part time basis 3 months after surgery and on a full time basis a couple of months later. 

I began doing my nature photography carrying very limited equipment about 4 months after surgery and a full backpack about a year after surgery.

Recovery, the “new normal”, and Senior Olympics!

I retired 14 months after the surgery and began playing table tennis at a local club soon after, winning two bronze medals and a silver medal in the local senior Olympics and a bronze medal for my talent level at the 2011 U.S. nationals this past December. 

Looking back, I’d say full recovery for me, which I’d define as reaching my new “normal,” took about 9-12 months.  As noted above, and as a former economist, I again emphasize that I represent just one data point.  Recovery time will vary considerably across individuals.”

Articles posted in “PMP Pals” and on www.pmppals.org are written from the perspective of patients and their family caregivers and are not intended to substitute for licensed professional legal or medical care. Each patient is unique and should seek the counsel of a licensed professional for their own specific case. Copyright © 2012 by Gabriella Graham/PMP Pals’ Network/All rights reserved. Visit us on the web at www.pmppals.org