Deer in the Headlight

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Picture this-it is early morning on a twisty country road along the mighty Mississippi River. The sun is just beginning to rise, pink light playing on the leaves. Fog is clinging in the shadows. The deer are very active and darting all around me. I figure I face two options. I can either stay in bed, postpone the ride, allowing the fear of hitting a deer paralyze me with “what if”. Or I can fire up the bike and go experience the twists in the road. Taking time to appreciate the cool morning air, the beauty all around, even though there might be dangers at any curve. I’ve learned a lot about fear over the last few years. Now, given a choice, I’ll alway chose to jump in, take the chance, and experience life fully.

How did I get here? Beginning in May, I started struggling with heart palpitations and shortness of breath. By the end of May, all of the tests on my heart came back with the all clear. The next step would be to test my lungs. I was feeling frustrated with medical tests with no answers. Andy was out of town presenting at the Overland Expo in Flagstaff. Restless, I decided that I needed some throttle therapy. It was a hot weekend. I loaded up the bike and headed west to camp along the Mississippi river. I spent the night in the hammock tent at Wyalusing State Park, high on the river bluffs. Large storms passed through in the early morning hours, I watched the rain and lightning from my perch overlooking the river. I woke up to a very soggy campsite, so there was no reason to linger. I loaded the bike for an early start on the great river road. I packed up camp and got on the road at 6:30 am. I had a lot of miles ahead of me and I was excited to ride.

Occasionally on the ride, a deer would cross the road in front of me and I would feel myself tense up with fear. When I noticed the tension, I’d take a deep breath, slow down a bit, and let the fear go. Proceeding a little more cautiously, my mind wandered, as often happens when I’m getting my throttle therapy. I made a connection between the fear of hitting a deer on my motorcycle and the fear of cancer re-impacting my life. The analogy bounced around my mind. It became crystal clear and gave me some degree of comfort. Simply, I concluded, there is only so much that can be done to prevent bad things from happening. After taking precautions, all you can do is let go and trust that things will be alright. Things out of your control will happen whether you fear it or not. There is no reason to paralyze yourself with irrational fear over things that are out of your control. I will not let the fear that something bad MIGHT happen prevent me from doing the things I love. That is not living.

 

On this particular ride, I decided to slow down and watch carefully for deer crossing, but also committed to relaxing and enjoying the ride as fully as possible, embracing the cool morning air and the curves in the road. Deer are unpredictable. If a deer decided to dart out into the road, too close to avoid collision, it would be outside of my control. Cancer, also unpredictable, can return despite all the efforts to eat well, exercise, and avoid carcinogens. Once we take reasonable precautions to keep safe on the motorcycle or maintain our health, all that’s left is to is to live and let life happen. I, for one, am not going to allow fear to stop me from doing the things I love. I put 500 miles on the Suzuki that day. The deer and I stayed out of each other’s way, and I met up with Andy in Hannibal, MO, where we had a great night exploring a new town. Fear did not stop me.

We rode home together, and I saw my Medical Oncologist a few weeks later. She saw that all of my heart tests were clear, yet my complaint of shortness of breath put her on alert and she scheduled me immediately for a chest x-ray and CT scan. I suppose that, as a cancer patient, red flags go up faster than with other patients. The first step is always to rule out the serious stuff. That we did. With clean scan results, I proceeded with my plans for a big party celebrating my marriage. The rest of the summer was spent on an epic “family-moon” with my husband and my daughters. We had many adventures along the way and made great memories. Had we sat home worrying about “what ifs,” we never would have enjoyed a trip like this.

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I frequently find comfort in the analogy I dreamed up during that early morning riding along the Mississippi. I remind myself that the fear itself is not tangible. Fear of danger on the motorcycle, or fear of cancer are “maybes” out of our control. The thing we fear may or may not happen, so why let it control our lives? The fear may feel real, but fear can be controlled and overcome. We can control the fear. We have limited control over accidents. We have limited control over cancer, but we can control the fear of these things. We can control how we face these things. I will not stop doing things I love due to something that may never happen.

These are the lessons I learned when facing the deer in the headlight that day on the river. In motorcycling, prepare yourself. Always improve on your riding skills, wear safety gear, stay alert for the unexpected. If a deer crosses your path, you will be ready. Then enjoy the ride. In life, prepare yourself for health. Exercise, reduce stress, eat healthy food, listen to what your body needs, stay alert for the unexpected. Then enjoy the joys of living a full life. You’ll be ready.

Living with NED, Marrying Pain

Time flies. Thank goodness, because I don’t like the alternative. I just realized that I have not updated my blog in a long time. I had not intended to stop writing altogether. Rather, my focus has been on starting a new chapter in my life, closing the book on the impact that cancer had in my life. Cancer treatment, for me, is becoming a fading memory. Lessons have been learned. Changes have been made. Priorities have re-ordered themselves.

Part of being a cancer survivor involves the fear that the cancer will come back. Each new pain or symptom is cause for more tests. This fall has been filled with tests for me, ranging from a lumbar puncture, brain MRI, cervical spine MRI, and a colonoscopy. It has also been an emotional fall filled with the struggles of friends enduring the setbacks and recurrences of cancer.

One thing I’ve learned along the way is that there is no point in stressing about the tests until all the results are in. A quote from the movie, “Bridge of Spies” resonates with me. The attorney often asked the man suspected of being a spy if he was worried. The man always calmly stated, “would it help?” Nope. Worrying doesn’t help and stress is bad. My goal is to get passed the fear to get to what’s good and positive in life.

I’m happy to say that, after all the test results are in, I am still living with NED (No Evidence of Disease). I love it, and plan to keep NED around for a good, long time.

So many positive things have happened for me over the summer. I am so thankful for the opportunity to slow down and savor the positive. I spent a great deal of time re-claiming my health with the amazing women who are Team Phoenix, culminating in my first Sprint Triathlon, and lifelong friendships. I also purchase a beautiful home with my boyfriend. We had time at the lake, camping trips, motorcycle rides. I’m feeling great and looking forward to many more adventures with my family.

I am also happy to announce that I will be marrying Andy Pain, my partner in all things, on January 1st, 2016. This makes me so happy. Andy has been with me through the best and worst moments of my life, with never-ending love and support, adventure (and kitten videos). I can’t imagine a better person to spend my life with.  I can’t imagine a better way to ring in the New Year than, “Living with NED, Marrying Pain”.

Suzandy

New Year, New Chapter

New Year, New Chapter

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Goodbye 2014. You taught me a lot. I learned to get beyond my personal limitations. I learned to see the important things and set aside the unimportant or harmful. The highs were higher, and the lows were lower. I learned that I am stronger than I thought, and I learned that I am weaker than I thought, too. Everything was simply MORE. Than usual. Of course, that could just be my perspective, having had a look into the face of my own mortality.

Early in the year, when this journey still held so much of the unknown, I was not sure I would live to see another year. Dreams put off would be forever lost. Fears of leaving my young children behind were prescient. Regrets for not getting to the doctor earlier would never change the path for me, no matter how much I wanted it to change. I simply had to follow this path, one day at a time, trusting that the doctors would get me through to see another year.

What a difference a year makes. 2014 was the first year in a long time that I didn’t work myself into the ground, physically, putting off healthy habits in exchange for the need to work. Hard. Cancer was my rude wake up call. I was forced to turn my focus to reclaiming my health, whatever that took. Reclaiming healthy habits needed to be my number one priority. I made it. I am now at the conclusion of my active treatment against cancer. I can say that I am a cancer survivor, currently living with No Evidence of Disease. Now, on this first day of a new year, I am shifting my reflections towards the next chapter.

This New Year’s holds a different significance for me. I’m not one to make resolutions (that we all know won’t be kept). But I will take the opportunity to symbolically close a tough chapter, a chance to start a whole new chapter. I admit that I feel a bit lost and not sure what this new chapter will entail. I do know that I want to embrace it, and live life as fully as I can, not putting off dreams anymore to a future that may or may not come, not letting fears or hang-ups stop me. I want to find a bigger purpose for my life, a way to give back, to help other women who are facing this journey.

Andy and I have been brainstorming a lot about ways to raise funds for the programs that helped me along the way. There seem to be a lot of resources and support for women who are actively undergoing treatment, but at the end of the day, when treatment is done, lots of women are left feeling lost, depressed, suffering from PTSD and facing fears of recurrence. Most of the foundations raising funds for Breast Cancer have a strong focus on awareness, early detection, self exams and regular mammograms. That did not help me. I did not detect my cancer early. My regular mammograms did not detect my cancer at all. I never knew that there was a type of breast cancer that was not found by mammography. If I had waited until my next mammogram, I might not be here today to start this new chapter.  With this New Year, I received the gift of a second chance. I hope to make it a great one!

Happy 2015.