Monthly Archives: October 2012

Making a life

It’s really happening.

This week I went in for a three hour doctor appointment.  This appointment was meant to check me out completely to make sure that 1) I was healthy enough to donate blood stem cells and 2) that I didn’t have any condition (allergy, infection, etc) that would make it unsafe for the patient.

Since there isn’t a hospital that does this procedure close to me, I will be donating at a hospital in a different state.  I had to fly out to the hospital for this appointment in order to meet the doctors who will be doing the procedure.  I’m so grateful that they feel it’s important to have this appointment at the actual donation site.  I feel so much more comfortable with this now that I have met the people I will be working with throughout the process.

Since I had to fly, I had the option of whether to go out the night before or early the day of.  Since I have been really busy the last few weeks, I opted for the early-morning flight so that I could spend an evening at home with the kids.

3:45 am seemed to come really early, but as usually happens, I woke up pretty easily knowing I had to get up to catch my flight.  I left for the airport at 4:10 am, and was sitting in the waiting area by 5 for my 5:30 flight.

I arrived at the hospital about 9:30 am, after being picked up at the airport by one of the nicest drivers I’ve ever met (not that I’ve met that many).  He had picked up a stem cell donor earlier that morning, and so he was interested to learn about my story and the donation process.  It was nice to have someone to talk to while I made the trip from the airport to the hospital.

I was met in the lobby by a lady who would take me around to all my various appointments.  I started with a chest X-ray, then was taken down to the pediatric cancer ward for my blood draw.  I hadn’t been in a pediatric ward since visiting Bean in the hospital almost 20 years ago.  Emotionally, it was pretty intense.  I blinked back a few tears, and tried not to think about where I was.  Soon enough, it was time for the blood draw.

Now, normally when I give a blood sample it’s no big deal.   It’s an easy process, and doesn’t bother me at all.  But a few moments after she finished drawing my blood, I got hot, lightheaded, and nauseous.  And then I threw up.  I’m not proud of it, but it happened.  I will admit that after that experience, I’m nervous about how I’ll react to a 6-8 hour procedure where I’m hooked up to a machine which is drawing blood.  I’m nervous…but it’s something I know I can get through.  Throughout this process, I continue to remind myself that nothing I will go through is anything like having cancer.  So I can’t complain.

Following the blood draw was an EKG to check my heart, and then it was the actual doctor appointment – pretty standard stuff except for the fact that we were talking about stem cell donation.  My doctor is a triathlete who completed a half Ironman a few weeks ago, so immediately we had something in common to talk about.  (And bonus?  He told me I was really fast when I said I finished my marathon in 4:44.  I think I love this doctor…)  I found out that medically, I am really boring.  Which is a really good thing.  No issues or concerns to speak of.

After the checkup we talked more about the actual donation process.  I’ll be honest, it isn’t going to be the most fun thing I’ve ever done.  6-8 hours in a hospital bed, unable to move my arm, get up, or do pretty much anything.  (Bedpans were mentioned…eww).  They told me that the worst side effect of the donation process is boredom.  Most of the things I like to do to pass time involve using both arms.  Knitting, reading, blogging…I’m going to have to find a lot of movies or hope that the hospital WiFi can support streaming video…

Boredom aside, the thing that worries me most about the donation process is the recovery.  The recovery is supposed to be pretty easy.  I mean, it’s not like I’m having major surgery.  But as part of the process they will have to use bloodthinners, and when removing the stem cells they also end up removing some platelets.  This means that I will have an increased risk of bleeding and bruising for several days after the procedure.  I won’t be allowed to shave, or floss.  I have to be very careful not to fall down, hit my head, etc.  I won’t be able to work out, or do anything strenuous.  I have to avoid anything that could potentially cause internal injuries or bleeding (not that I’d be wanting to do those things anyway…).  I also won’t be allowed to lift anything heavy (over 5 pounds) for a few days.  5 pounds?  I have a toddler who loves to be carried that weighs much more than that…  So I am supposed to take it easy and be very careful with myself.  That’s not the easiest thing for an active mom to do…

But there are none of these things that make me feel like I can’t or shouldn’t donate.  They are, simply, things to be aware of and to guard against.  And so, after the meeting, I signed the paper that indicated my consent to become a donor.

In a week or so, I will find out for sure if everything is a go.  They still need to run samples of my blood through an array of tests which couldn’t be completed in the 3 hours I was at the hospital.  But barring some unforeseen circumstance, I should be cleared to donate.

And so, to close this post, I wanted to share a quote that is on a paperweight I found at the airport on my way home.  It really resonated with me at this point in my life, and I feel like it pretty accurately describes my perspective on life’s journey.

“From what we get we can make a living.  What we give, however, makes a life.” – Arthur Ashe

 


Guts, Heart, and no Glory (or, how not to pace a 100 mile race)

Last weekend I had an experience that I have had a hard time putting into words.

My friend Tara was running a 100 mile race, the Heartland 100, and I volunteered to be on her support crew and pace her for some of her run.  It had to be one of the most inspiring things I have ever witnessed.  I knew I was in for an experience I wouldn’t forget, but I had no idea just how memorable it would be.

Before I get started, I want to link to Tara’s race report here.  There’s no need for me to rewrite everything she’s already said.

I’ll start with the obvious.  Tara didn’t finish the race.  But, this was not her first 100.  In fact, I think it was her fourth.  She had never had a DNF (Did Not Finish) in a race before.  But this wasn’t like any race she had ran before, either.

The race weekend started with a pre-race briefing the night before the race.  When the pre-race meeting includes instructions to the runners on what to do in case of severe lightning, torrential rain, strong wind, hail, and TORNADOES, you know you’re in for an interesting race.  (And really, when you’re running a 100 mile race, with aid stations spaced 15+ miles apart, what exactly should you do if there is a tornado???  Apparently just get down in a ditch and pray.)

Tara started out and rocked the first 50 miles.  She was in a groove, the crew was loud and boisterous, (and soaked, and coated in mud), and we were having a blast.  We were the loudest crew on the course.  It was so much fun every time we saw that gold shirt and pink skirt on the horizon, we’d shout and yell as loud as we could for Tara.  The weather alternated between fair, bad, and horrible.  She ran through torrential rain (as promised), sky-to-ground lightning (as promised), and 25+ mph winds (as promised).   I’m not sure where the hail and tornadoes were.  I guess I’m glad they didn’t show up.

But when she came in after 64 miles, we knew there was something wrong.  First of all, she was walking.  Second, she said she had never felt this bad in a race before.  What we didn’t know is that she hadn’t been able to eat (I would find that out in a few more hours).  It was my turn to head out, and I was planning to pace her for 11 miles.  We got her changed into dry clothes, tried to get some food into her system, and when she said she was ready, we headed out.  For the first hour we jogged when she felt like it and walked when she didn’t.  I kept up a running conversation as long as we could, trying to keep her thinking of anything other than the race.  An hour into the segment, she started to tell me her stomach wasn’t feeling right.  I figured that it was something we could work on at the next aid station, so we plugged away until we got to the Teterville aid station.  In retrospect, we should have never left, but I knew she wasn’t ready to quit and I did not want to be the reason for her quitting.  Again we tried to get some food and fluids into her.  Although I had originally planned to stop after 11, at the pace we were going I figured I could walk 8 more miles, then Joanne could take over to get her the last 17 into the finish.  We were still planning to finish.

1.5 miles later, we were talking about whether to head back to Teterville.  Tara wasn’t feeling good, and wasn’t sure whether to continue.  Knowing she was so competitive, I told her we’d go another quarter mile and if she wasn’t feeling like continuing then, we’d head back.  When we hit that point, she told me that we would keep going, so we did.  A mile later, I think we both had started to regret that decision.  Tara couldn’t eat anything, and she was starting to not be able to drink any water.  I gave up on trying to distract her from the race, and just continued to talk to her about anything and everything, including how much the race sucked.  We were at the point where we couldn’t turn back, and we couldn’t stop, so we just had to keep moving, no matter how slow, and so that’s exactly what I told her.  I kept telling her we’d just get to Lapland and the aid station, and we’d regroup there, try to get some help from the medical staff, and then decide what to do.  Although I knew we’d probably never leave Lapland, I felt it was important to keep that thought alive.

Four miles into the 8 mile segment, we realized it wasn’t going to happen.  We weren’t leaving Lapland.  The focus shifted from getting through Lapland to getting to Lapland.  We both knew that once she stopped moving for a length of time, Tara would be done.  But we also knew that we had no choice but to get there, because we were three miles from any support.

Once we both realized that the race was over, I asked Tara if I could use her cell phone to call our crew chief, Tracey, and see if we could get a ride.  I thought there was no sense making her walk another four miles if she didn’t need to.  Sadly, the race officials at Lapland wouldn’t allow Tracey to drive out to pick us up.

While I was talking to Tracey, Tara sat down in the middle of the gravel road, in the mud.  I was worried I wouldn’t be able to get her back up.  But I gave her the bad news that we weren’t getting a ride, and sure enough, she got up and we pressed on.

About a half hour later (at least it seemed like a half hour), both Tara and I noticed what looked like a flashing strobe light in the distance.  This white flashing light was like nothing we had ever seen before.  I even asked her if she saw it too, and commented that if we could both see it then at least we weren’t delusional.  As it got closer and closer, we even started to laugh at the absurdity of this bizarre light in the Kansas prairie.  And sure enough, as the light got close enough, we realized it was a person with a super bright handheld light.  When this person yelled out “Hey Ladies!” was one of the best moments of the night.  It was Joanne, she had headed out to join us for the last few miles.

Joanne took Tara’s pack (as I wondered why on earth I hadn’t thought to take it from her already), and we pressed on.  A few minutes later I noticed headlights in the distance.  Thinking it was probably one of the race officials, I wondered if they might stop to help us.  When the car finally got up to us, the windows rolled down and Tracey yelled, “Need a ride?”  Our journey was finally over.  Tracey had called the race director and told him that she was going to pick up Tara, and he finally allowed it.

Now this could just be a story of another person who got into a hole and didn’t finish a race.  If you read Tara’s race report, that’s pretty much what she says it is.  But that’s not what it was.

Anyone who attempts a 100 mile race already knows, before the start, that they are in for a hard time.  It will be a painful race, and many of them will not finish.  Tara knew this.  She has already finished several 50 and 100 mile races.  Tara knows what it means to hurt, to break a bone in her foot and keep running, to crawl just so that she doesn’t have to quit.

Tara is not a quitter.

But Tara was in a hole.  She hadn’t been able to keep any fuel in her system for 9 miles.  She was feeling (in her own words) the worst she had ever felt in a race, and yet she still went out and covered 18 more miles, over 6 hours.    That’s 6 hours of feeling worse than she had ever felt before, yet she still pressed on.

When she could no longer even keep water down, did she quit?  No.  She covered at least 5 more miles.

When she couldn’t walk a straight line, did she quit?  No.  She pressed on and held onto my arm for support.

When we realized she wasn’t going to be able to finish, did she quit?  No.  She pressed on and kept walking until help arrived.

Tara never talked about quitting.  When we realized she wasn’t going to finish, we didn’t talk about quitting, we talked about making it to the next aid station.  It was my suggestion that we call for support, because I didn’t want her hurting herself more than she had to.

Tara has guts.

Tara has heart.

Tara deserves glory.  Since she didn’t finish, she didn’t get an award.  But she has my respect forever.

Tara, I said this to you at about midnight on Saturday night, and I’ll say it again.

I’ll death march through the pitch-black Kansas prairie with you any time.

Name the time and place. I’ll be there.


All Heart

This weekend.

Wow.

It was just, wow.

I can’t really put it into words yet. Which is good because I would have to type it all on my phone keyboard.

Here is the only breakdown I can muster at this point.

1 hour of sleep. (maybe)
4 trips to Walmart. (One at 2:30 am)
4 super awesome pacers/crew.
6 hours of “death walking”
17.5 miles of said walking
82 total miles of total awesomeness.

One amazing woman.

And one DNF.

But there is no shame in this DNF. She left it all out there on the Kansas prairie, and she truly had nothing more to give.

I may be seriously sleep deprived, but I’m getting a little choked up just thinking about what just happened.

When there is nothing left to give, you suck it up and find a bit more.


Without hesitation

Yesterday, I was waiting at the DMV to renew my drivers’ license when my cell phone began to ring.

I looked at it and didn’t recognize the number.

Usually, I wouldn’t answer a phone call from a number I didn’t recognize, but I was waiting and I figured it would probaby be a short call.

Imagine my surprise when it was a call from Jenny at DKMS Americas.

“I know you had worked with Amy a few months ago when you were a match for a patient, and I know it didn’t work out. First of all, thank you for being willing to donate at that time.”

I figured she was calling about setting up a bone marrow donor drive, as I have been working on setting one up next year.

So imagine my surprise when she said, “The patient’s doctor has determined that you are the best match for the patient, and would like to schedule a donation. Would you be interested?”

I don’t think she had even finished talking when I answered.

“ABSOLUTELY!”

We agreed that the DMV was not the best place to continue the discussion, and set up a time to talk early next week.

Today my donor information packet arrived, and I can tell I am going to have a lot of information to read and digest, and probably some decisions to make before it’s all set and ready to go.

But I’m ready. I’ve been ready since way back in June, when I got the first call.

No hesitation, no second thoughts. This is happening.

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Too pretty for words

I was able to get out today on a crisp fall morning for a 12.5 mile run.

The fall leaves are so gorgeous right now that I found myself stopping often to just enjoy the beauty of a perfect panorama.

So today, I thought I’d share some of these perfect moments with you. Not one of these pictures can do the scene justice. I find that a picture never quite captures the true essence of a place. To experience it you have to be there.

But these are still pretty sweet pictures, nonetheless.

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