Livestrong

Livestrong

As of Tuesday, I am a graduate of the Livestrong program at the YMCA (I even have a certificate!). Livestrong is a 12 week program designed to help cancer survivors achieve their health goals. I would highly recommend the program to anyone just finishing cancer treatment, unsure about how to rebuild after the difficulties they’ve just faced.

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While I still have a ways to go to regain the strength and fitness level that I had prior to cancer treatment, I feel like it was an excellent way to start. Participants in the Livestrong program get a free Y membership for the duration of the program, too. My class met twice a week, and it was just the push I needed to get off the couch and hit the gym. It was extremely difficult to find the motivation, and the energy, to exercise during chemo and radiation, but having a class to look forward to was an excellent way to get me out of that mode.

I’ve always had a physical lifestyle. I love jogging, biking, swimming, hiking, playing sports, and on and on. But I’ve never been terribly interested in “classes”, or group exercise. I have to say, there was something invaluable about being part of this group exercise program, though. For me, it was less about the exercise, and more about the camaraderie I found in a group of women who had recently gone through the same treatments and challenges that I had. It was the opportunity to talk about our experiences that motivated me to go every week. My group was very small, only 3 of us came regularly, and we grew comfortable talking about some personal stuff. It became like an intimate support group ( another thing I’ve never really been interested in). We were there to encourage each other and cheer at our small successes.

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Over the 12 weeks, we tracked our progress and did a baseline and post-class assessment of our progress. I’m proud to say that I improved in the areas of endurance, strength and flexibility! I hope to keep working toward my goal this winter. One more hurdle to clear, with surgery imminent, but after that I’m on track to join Team Phoenix at Aurora next spring! (more on that in future blog posts…)

Throttle Therapy

Memorial Day Weekend was approaching, and I had nothing planned. My kids were scheduled to be with their dad, my family picnic had been postponed, my boyfriend was out of town, soon to be returning from a two week motorcycle trip across the country (www.traveling250.com), and the weather was going to be beautiful. That’s saying a lot for a Memorial Day Weekend in Wisconsin, which is usually over-scheduled and has a 50-50 chance of being miserably cold and rainy.

Memorial Day Weekend this year would also be day five and six of my current round of chemotherapy. Days, which, in the past, have proven to be low points for me. I knew one thing, though, I was not going to sit home and wait for side effects to kick in. I was feeling really healthy, so, at the last minute, I started toying with the idea of meeting my boyfriend somewhere along his route home. By motorcycle. The idea of getting out of town, taking a break from all the medical stuff, getting out there on my bike, and seeing Andy a little sooner was very appealing.

ride on

We started discussing places to meet. He mentioned New Glarus, a quaint little Swiss village southwest of Madison. It would be an easy ride for me, and sounded nice, but I soon found that I couldn’t get a room in New Glarus due to a music festival which was taking place. So, looking at my map, I thought Mineral Point looked like another good choice. I really knew nothing about Mineral Point, but judging from the research I did online, it looked like a nice place for a quiet getaway. The town was formed in the 1830s and 40s, and being a fan of historic architecture, I thought I would find it interesting. And, it is in the driftless area of Wisconsin, which means beautiful, rolling motorcycle roads. I splurged a little and booked a really amazing looking room for Saturday night.

I woke up Saturday morning feeling great and super giddy for my road trip. I had arranged to ride out of town with my good friend, Mary. We would ride together until lunch time, at which point we would go our separate ways. It was perfect motorcycling weather. Sunny and warm. We had an uneventful ride out (except for that one playful dear along the side of the road) and stopped for a leisurely lunch at a favorite place.

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After lunch, I continued west. As I got close to Madison I decided to get off the highway and onto quieter country roads. The smells, the sights, the serene experience, passing through small towns, was just what I needed. This is what I affectionately call “throttle therapy”. It is the rejuvenating power I feel when I ride my motorcycle. Once I got past Madison, the roads got quieter and stretched out in gentle curves in front of me. I was feeling great!

Even though we didn’t set a meeting time, and we had different distances to cover, we arrived at the hotel within minutes of each other. Right on the main street, but tucked away with a hidden garden entrance, our room was remarkable. It had masonry walls filled with whimsical art built into the walls, a kitchenette and living room filled with books about the art and architecture of Mineral Point, a claw foot bathtub and bedroom up a set of stairs. I knew instantly that this was just what the doctor ordered.

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We had a wonderful dinner, wine and even saved room for dessert (because, let’s be honest, I can’t resist chocolate cake with red wine) at the Brewery Creek Brewpub. There was time for a soak in the claw foot tub and a great night’s sleep. In the morning, the sun was streaming in, past the gardens where the motorcycles were parked and through the stained glass decorations in the window. I made some tea and curled up on the couch, looking through some of the interesting books that filled the place. It was a beautifully peaceful morning.

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We learned that we simply cannot leave Mineral Point without sampling figgyhobbin, a Cornish pastry filled with a mix of raisins, walnuts, brown sugar, and butter and covered with caramel sauce and whipped cream. Glad we took that advice and tried the figgyhobbin, we found that it was the perfectly sweet end to a perfectly sweet getaway.

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Victory Garden

Victory Garden

It may be a bit premature to declare victory over cancer. I am not quite four months post-diagnosis. I have one surgery behind me. I am half way through my six rounds of chemotherapy and am still facing six weeks of radiation after chemo, and, potentially, three more surgeries. That being said, from the very start, I only considered one possible outcome for this circumstance. It will be victory over cancer. When my doctors started showing me percentages for this and that, my only comment was that I intended to stay on the right side of these percentages, no matter what that takes. I am not finished with my life on this planet. I have so much to live for. I see it in the faces of my young daughters. I feel it when I plan future road trips and travel adventures with my boyfriend. I have nothing but excitement and happiness when I think about the rest of my life. Maybe the difficulties I have had in the last few years, culminating in the discovery of cancer in my body, were the wake-up call I needed to reset my life onto the right path. It certainly has made me re-evaluate my priorities. I am improving my eating habits, eliminating stress and negativity from my life. I am taking more time for important things, such as time with my kids, time for exercise, time for fun and lots of laughter!

So where does the garden come in, you may be thinking? Well, to celebrate the return of spring after this brutal winter, as well as a way of marking my halfway point in chemotherapy prior to tackling round 4 (yesterday), I called on a group of family and close friends to come help me tackle my neglected back yard. I bought a deteriorating duplex on the verge of foreclosure two and a half years ago, and have been working gradually to restore it to its glory. The backyard was so overgrown with weeds when I moved in that I nearly lost my children back there, yet that project always seemed to get set on the back burner. I knew I wanted to work on it this spring, yet, still weak from surgery and less than energetic from chemo, I also knew it was time to take my friends up on offers of assistance. I couldn’t have done it without them.

I am so grateful for the help. It was a beautiful, sunny Sunday afternoon. I spent the week buying native perennials, veggies for a nice healthy vegetable garden, and blueberries, blackberries and strawberries (because I took the girls to the garden center with me). Of course, I stocked up on beer, soda, water and food to take care of all those who put in hard work to get the back yard in shape. I’m amazed at how much we accomplished. In a few hours, we churned up a lot of dirt, pulled weeds, added topsoil and mulch, planted a whole veggie garden, as well as a great perennial garden with a perfect spot for my hammock. To borrow a lovely sentiment from a friend who expressed, “I thought of my chemo as roundup…a weed killer…so my garden could grow!”.  My backyard will always remind me of the wonderful love and support I am blessed with in my life. That is what my victory garden represents to me.

A Bicycle, a Motorcycle, and one Margarita

A Bicycle, a Motorcycle, and one Margarita

With the pain of shingles a fading memory, I was back. Feeling ambitious, I was looking for a few fun things to do over the weekend before “spa day” numero tres tomorrow. Friday saw decent temperatures and I was feeling strong, so I decided to see how it felt to get on my bicycle. It’s important for me to stay as active as possible throughout chemo, and since my indoor exercise bike is not all that exciting, especially after a winter like this, I was beyond ready for some outdoor exercise and fresh air!!

A bit uncertain about how my upper body strength would handle the bike, I started out cautiously. That didn’t last much beyond the alley, as I was feeling strong and confident. Comforted by Andy’s encouragement, I felt like I could ride without any problems. It felt wonderful pushing the pedals through Estabrook Park. I made my way comfortably to a favorite spot along the river, where the rapids were flowing with that soothing sound that rejuvenates me. We sat at the overlook by the beer garden (no, it’s not open yet, but I will be there as soon as it is… who’s in? Melissa? Marty, with your cold, spring birthday parties?), taking in the sunshine and the scenery. We got a nice walk along the river before getting back on the bikes to head home. These are the things in life that are the healing moments for me.

The bike ride felt so good, that I decided to skip the baby steps. On Saturday, I got the motorcycle out of the garage. Cautiously at first, again, until the end of the alley, and again, with Andy there in case I needed help, it felt remarkable to get back on the bike!! Andy was a little worried, and wanted me to go up and down the alley and leave it at that, but that didn’t sound fun at all, so we decided that a ride to the new Sprecher restaurant at Bayshore to meet his mom for lunch wouldn’t be too far for a first time out. I felt so good, that I couldn’t stop smiling and bouncing up and down every time we came to a stop light! After lunch, we headed to the lakefront for a cold photo-op near the water.

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Getting on my bike was a huge milestone for me. When I first heard my diagnosis and the dizzying array of surgeries and treatments which I would be enduring, I did not think I would ride my motorcycle until the fall, if at all in 2014. I had plans for weekend motorcycle trips with friends that would have to be postponed. This made me very sad, because being on the bike is my throttle therapy!! It always cures what ails me and provides me with such joy. The thought of leaving the bike in the garage all summer was even more depressing than a cancer diagnosis.

I am committed to getting stronger through this, continuing to do the things I love to do! Now I feel confident that my goals are not out of reach.

Oh yes, and I can’t forget the one margarita, which I had on Sunday.

Here’s to hoping that the third verse is not the same as the first!

one margarita

one margarita