Cancer Sucks

gloria

Gloria and her baby, Ruby.

My friend Gloria was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer in 2008. She has been through surgery, chemo, and radiation, and continues to endure infusion therapy every twenty-one days to block estrogen from feeding the cancer cells. Right now, cancer lives throughout her skeletal system but is not in any visceral organs. She’s beaten incredible odds to survive well past doctors’ predictions. Unfortunately, her survival comes with a price—chronic pain. Gloria is an adventure-loving, free-spirited person who hopes her experience can help other people who are also fighting cancer.

What were your initial thoughts when you were diagnosed with cancer?

I can’t call it shock because I knew it was cancer when I first felt the lump. But the first time I heard the confirmation of my intuition—“you have breast cancer”—I went into a tunnel. I heard “you’ll need surgery and chemo,” and everything was muffled sounds outside my tunnel. All I could hear clearly were my thoughts: ‘This is it. This is how I will die.’

What would you want friends and family to know about helping a loved one newly diagnosed with cancer?

“I don’t know what to say” is ok. Even silence is fine. I didn’t want to hear anything but “I’m here for your” or “I’m sorry.” Or silence. Not “my aunt had cancer, you’ll be fine, or don’t worry.” I wanted them to just be there.

Do you have advice for new cancer patients to help them take care of themselves emotionally?

Don’t start spending too much time obsessing on the internet. Don’t look up survival rates. Everybody’s different—when you first get diagnosed, you don’t even know what you’re dealing with. You need to process that you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, and that’s it. Things will change. You might get discouraged about something that’s going to change anyway.

Have there been any happy surprises since being diagnosed?

What I call my angel experience. I was going through chemo and had to go to physical therapy to get my right arm moving again. A lady walked up to me and said, “do you have breast cancer?” And I was pissed at her for asking because it was obvious that I was weak and bald. But then she said, “I’m a twenty-year survivor, stage 4, in the bones, thoracic, sternum, cervical, and lumbar. You are going to be alright.” The same shit I have! Then she walked away and disappeared and I never saw her again. That was enough to encourage me. That was a real turning point. I’d started out real positive, but then I started sinking. And then she showed up.

If you meet someone who just found out she has cancer, what would you want her to know about how to handle day-to-day life?

Keep a journal. It’s important to write down how you feel. I think the hardest part is listening to everybody’s bullshit. You have to just not listen to too much and try not to look too far ahead.

What’s one of the best decisions you’ve made since your diagnosis?

To just live in the moment. Not to worry about down the road, because you can’t. Nobody’s going to get out alive. Honestly, not having to go to work anymore helps. I don’t have all that stress. Most days I’m in a lot of pain, and when I worked as a nurse, I couldn’t lie down and rest when I needed to.

What’s your favorite part about survival?

I can spend each day appreciating what I have. I appreciate time. I get up and sit on the porch and listen to the birds. And being with Ruby, my dog, is my life. She’s my baby.

Life with Chronic Pain

Sleep is a sticking point for a body in chronic pain. It’s what I crave the most—to just lie down and close my eyes and not wake up for hours—but it’s often a craving left unsatisfied. Most mornings begin one of three ways.

I wake up as the dogs rattle around in the kitchen, sniffing for errant kibble under their blankets and bowls. I take stock of the situation—is it really morning? How much sleep was I able to get? What muscles are spasming? Am I able to turn my head or is it stuck in one direction or the other? I’m stiff, sore, and need to get out of bed quickly before I can’t get up at all, but I’m thankful to have gotten a few hours of sleep.

Or, I wake up at 3 a.m., my hips throbbing, an electric-like pain shooting across my pelvis. My neck is stiff, my leg muscles are rigid, and nerves light up throughout my body. I stand up in the dark because I can’t stand the pressure on my body as I lie on the bed.

And there are the mornings that are merely extensions of the previous night. Those are the hardest, the ones where no matter how many times I change positions or alternate between the bed and a camping mattress on the floor, I can’t get comfortable. I’m exhausted but in too much pain to sleep. Midnight, two a.m., sunrise, all come and go. Eventually I get up, defeated by my own body, and try to start another day.

I used to take sleep for granted. In college, I’d fall asleep on a cheap blow-up mattress and wake up feeling like a million bucks. Before chronic pain, if I said I didn’t get enough sleep, I meant that I’d had four or five hours of rest. Now, those hours are days. My record is ninety-six hours without sleep, and by the time I finally took enough muscle relaxers to knock myself out, I was shaky and cold and thought I might die.

I hate prescription medication. I use vitamin B supplements, sublingual melatonin, and organic tea to try to sleep. But occasionally, on nights when nothing else works, I reach for a bottle of pills. It’s one of the worst kind of defeats—to admit that my body is attacking itself, trying to stay awake through the hours meant for sleep.

I try to look at chronic pain as a test, a puzzle that must be worked with through trial and error until my body and I come up with a livable solution. I exercise daily, often spending an hour working on my core muscles to help alleviate the pressure on my spine. I eat a restricted diet, avoiding sugar and corn and gluten and a lot of other things that seem to inflame my body. I have a pretty good survival system, but chronic pain is a fulltime job. Every bite of food, every push of a heavy door, every reach overhead to pull on a fan—every single thing has to be carefully planned, because a wrong move can leave me debilitated for days or weeks.

Sometimes, when I’m able to sleep, I drift off to lucid dreams in which I’m running half marathons again, or scoring goals on the soccer field, or finishing my first triathlon. They’re beautiful dreams, but because they’re lucid, I know there’s a certain sense of falsehood in them. Willpower and hope keep me fighting through the sleepless nights. I may not be able to run again yet, but I want to, and desire is a powerful thing. I get mad sometimes—a resentful, ugly mad—but I try to channel that anger into healing. Chronic pain owns the mind as much as it owns the body, and staying hopeful that one day I’ll be okay is my way of telling it to kiss my pain-free ass.

 

Custom Bicycle for Painless Cycling

bike handlebar extender

Tall handlebars and a parrot horn. Yes!

I sold my road bike several years ago and bought a grandma cruiser. Cervical dystonia and three herniated discs made it impossible for me to comfortably get into an aerodynamic cycling position, but I didn’t want to give up biking after already sacrificing so much to chronic pain. The cruiser I bought is a hybrid bike with plenty of gear choices, and I added some skull stickers to make me feel better about riding a dorky bike. I love it, but until recently, the positioning was still off.

My neck gets very angry if I have any weight come through my left arm for an extended period of time, and the factory setup of the cruiser had me leaning forward too much. I raised the handlebars and lowered the seat as much as safely possible, but still no dice. The local bike shop fixed me up with a custom handlebar extender, and now I’m a much happier cyclist.

extended handlebars

Look how high the handlebars are in relation to the seat.

The extension piece itself is simple—a metal tube that allows the bike’s handlebars to sit up taller than they normally could. Unfortunately, the installation wasn’t so simple. All of the cables on the front of the bike were too short to accommodate the taller handlebars, so the bike technician had to put in all new cables. The labor took about an hour, but when the tech was done, I finally had a bike I could ride comfortably.

Exercising with fibromyalgia and chronic pain takes a bit of creativity, but if you’re committed, there’s usually an answer to most problems. I now sit so upright on my bike that it’s probably comical for people who see me pedal by, but I don’t care. I can ride without neck pain, and that’s worth the dork factor.

Cupping for Pain Relief

cupping bruise

It’s like a circular hickey on my calf.

Try to imagine giant leeches sucking your legs for five minutes, and you’ll get the general idea of what goes on during cupping. I tried cupping to help increase circulation and aid healing in my damaged leg muscles, and for a week I sported round bruises on my calves and thighs.

I’m always up for trying a new way to relieve chronic pain, even if the treatment leaves me looking like I was attacked by an octopus. My back and hip are still giving me fits, despite having had some recent good results with specialized physical therapy. I guess this is the nature of fibromyalgia—a few steps forward and at least one step backward.

The actual cupping experience was a lot more painful than I imagined it would be, but after a minute, the pain eased up a bit. I stayed still on a treatment table for five minutes while the cups did their magic, and by the final minute, my legs were still uncomfortable, but not nearly as bad as the first minute.

When the PT opened his case and showed me rows of cups and an apparatus to make them suction to my legs, I knew I was in for a unique experience. I didn’t get the results I’d hoped for—mainly reduced pain—but at least I tried. I’ve heard that some people swear by cupping, but it’s not for me. My favorite healing tool is a lot more soothing—soaking in the hot tub.

Recipe: Miso Soup with Vegetables

miso soup

Broccoli is my favorite vegetable.

I felt exhausted yesterday after a two-and-a-half-hour workout that included an hour of very challenging physical therapy for my back and hip. Dealing with chronic pain is a fulltime job. Workouts geared toward rehab aren’t hard like a long run, but they’re very fatiguing and difficult in their own way. When I got home, I felt like I needed a nutritional boost ASAP. I raided the fridge and decided to make miso soup with fresh vegetables.

You can use whatever vegetables you have on hand, and if they’re from an Asian market, even better. I wish I’d had shitake mushrooms, but white button did fine. The one thing I wouldn’t compromise on is organic miso. I’ve read scary things about conventional soy products. This is how I made my miso soup:

Ingredients

  • 1 quart water
  • 1 head broccoli
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 2 large mushrooms
  • 2 large pieces of wakame (sea vegetable)
  • organic white miso to taste

Directions

  • Chop vegetables while water boils in a pot.
  • Add carrots to boiling water for a minute or two, then add remaining vegetables.
  • Use a ladle to remove some of your boiling water into a large glass measuring cup. Once water in cup is hot but not boiling, add miso and whisk until it moves freely.
  • Boil veggies only a couple of minutes to keep them firm, then remove pot from heat.
  • Add miso broth back to soup pot and stir.
  • Serve warm.

My brother-in-law loves miso soup and often adds fresh corn, Brussels sprouts, and other goodies. I was fascinated the first time I saw miso soup because it looked like it was alive. When the miso disperses in the warm water, it looks unlike anything else I’ve ever eaten. I’m used to it now, but still enjoy the show when I stir my soup.

 

 

 

Foundation Training

foundation training

DVD cover image of Foundation Training (pic from Amazon).

I recently read Foundation Training: Redefine Your Core, Conquer Back Pain, and Move with Confidence, and started the basic exercises the next day. While my back pain didn’t magically disappear (of course), I feel stronger and more confident already. I’ve only been doing the exercises for a few days and started a little more conservatively than the book recommends. My body tends to react poorly to new exercises if I start them too intensely.

I enjoyed the philosophy of the book enough to do something I almost never do—order fitness DVDs. The Foundation DVDs have updated exercises and arrived in my mailbox today. I’m very excited to watch them this evening. I don’t see how strengthening the lower back, gaining flexibility, and keeping good posture can do anything but great things for the unwell body.

Fibromyalgia, chronic pain, low back pain, etc. all tend to push western medicine practitioners toward prescribing pills and/or surgery. I don’t want any of those drastic measures. I appreciate an approach that involves self-motivation and control, which is what Foundation training allows. I can do these exercises and give them a shot rather than wallowing in the bottom of a pill bottle. Giving a sense of empowerment to chronic pain patients is priceless.

I highly recommend checking out Foundation Training. It might not be right for you, but it’s worth at least investigating it as an option. Let me know how it goes!

Supplements and Sleep

calm thoughts supplement

image from source naturals’ website

Has anybody tried a supplement called Calm Thoughts? I’ve been using it lately and have had a week of fantastic results. I’ve been sleeping almost normally for the first time in years, and my pain is way down.

I’m off all prescriptions, and so thankful to be out of the vicious cycle of one pill begetting another. Chronic pain and illness (including fibromyalgia) often necessitates prescriptions, but I hate taking them. I’m much happier if I can safely and effectively use homeopathic supplements.

Now that I’m sleeping, I wonder if the massive improvement in my symptoms is due to the supplements themselves or the repair my body is able to do while it sleeps. We all know how important sleep is to healing, so it stands to reason for me that my return to restful sleeping might be the best chronic pain medicine available.

Brooks Launch 2 Review

brooks launch 2

I took my pair of Brooks Launch 2 outside for the first time on a hot spring day.

The Good

Comfort—my pair of Brooks Launch 2 was comfortable straight out of the box. Seriously, all I had to do was fit the laces through the last hole, tie them, and go. I walked two miles and did forty-five minutes of strength training to break them in, but the break-in time didn’t seem necessary. The forefoot is soft and allows my bones to spread out. Their overall weight is 7.9 oz according to the Brooks website, and they feel very light on my feet. The offset is listed at 10mm, which I find very comfortable.

Cushioning—there’s enough midsole to keep my feet happy without feeling like I’m on marshmallows.

Traction—the Launch 2 definitely isn’t a trail shoe (it’s not meant to be), but I haven’t had any issues getting a grip in firm-packed mud, loose sand, or wet pavement. The sole at the midfoot doesn’t have any plastic—just rubber—so the dangerous potential to slip on the edge of a curb (this happened to me in a pair of Asics) isn’t a concern.

Overall function—the laces stay tied without double knotting, and the shoes require minimal if any break-in time. They’re running shoes and they do their job well. They’re not as sturdy-feeling as my Brooks Ghost 7, but they cost $20 less than the Ghosts, so I’m okay with that. As for size, I bought 9.5 but usually wear 9 in Brooks, so either the Launch 2 runs a little small or my feet are growing.

brooks launch 2 laces

The ends of the laces say “DIG DEEP.”

Appearance—I’ve seen two colorways, but from what I’ve read there are three and possibly more to come. I chose the green and purple and I really like the way those colors look together. The laces are a nice, complimentary purple, and the outsole is cute, too. The ends of the laces say “DIG DEEP,” and some people might think it’s gimmicky, but as a chronic pain sufferer, I definitely relate to that mantra.

The Bad

The pointed toe. I wish all shoe companies would take a cue from Altra and stop making shoes shaped like we have a giant toe sprouting from the middle of our foot. The forefoot in the Launch 2 is wide enough for me, so the pointed toe is more of an elf-like aesthetic issue.

The Undecided

Durability—time will tell, and I’ll update this review after I’ve worn the Launch 2 a lot more. To the touch, though, the outsole feels a little soft and I’m worried these won’t be with me for the long haul.

Price—I say “undecided” because I really have no idea what a fair price for a running shoe is. These days I’ve seen various shoes from good brands on sale for as little as $48 and at full price for as much as $299. I paid $100 for the Launch 2, but my gut tells me $80 would’ve been a fairer price. That said, because they’re a new release, you’re probably going to have to pay full price. On a positive note, some retailers are offering a promotion right now that includes a free Brooks hat with purchase of the Launch 2, so at least I got a nice, free cap for the upcoming summer.

Remove Stink from Workout Clothes

white vinegar laundry

White vinegar effectively took the stench out of my shirts.

My workout clothes smelled like a combination of raw onions and body odor. I’d had several of the shirts for years, but they were in good shape other than stinking so bad. Good workout clothes are expensive, and most of my running shirts are Nike or Under Armour, which means that even on sale they cost a good bit of hard-earned money. I’ve tried several varieties of regular detergent, including Tide with Bleach Alternative, ECOS Free and Clear, and Seventh Generation Liquid. The result was always the same—my clothes still stunk.

I bought a sample of Nathan Sport Wash and optimistically tried it. It definitely worked better than the regular detergents, but it only cut the stink some—it didn’t remove all of it. Not good enough.

I try to avoid harsh, synthetic chemicals and environmentally unfriendly products, and remembered my days as a mother to an adopted house rabbit. Rabbits are very sensitive to chemicals, and Winston’s litterbox could only be safely cleaned with white vinegar. I bought a bottle and hoped it would make headway on the perma-stink in my workout shirts.

Several Google searches turned up multiple methods to wash clothes with vinegar, and ultimately I just decided to try my own thing and hope for the best. I set the washing machine on the Soak cycle and poured about a cup of white vinegar—no detergent—into the water. My washer agitates the clothes even on Soak, but I guess that’s its way of making sure they get saturated with water. It rinsed and drained at the six-minute mark, which was not what I wanted, so I paused the cycle. I opened the washer and was overwhelmed by a smell reminiscent of dying Easter eggs (remember the color pellets that dissolve in vinegar?), dumped in another cup of vinegar, and let it fill again.

At the end of the 24-minute Soak cycle, the clothes smelled a little bit like Easter and a lot less like stench. I poured in the usual amount of Nathan Sport Wash and put them on the Rapid cycle. Less than half an hour later, I pulled out my shirts and nervously smelled the armpits. Victory!

My worst-smelling shirt, a purple Nike running Pro, still has a bit of stink to it, but the other clothes smelled faintly of vinegar and nothing else. No onions. No B.O. Just clean.

I hope I don’t have to go through the whole process again, but the combination of soaking in vinegar and water followed by a short wash cycle with Nathan made my clothes almost new again. Totally worth it versus buying new ones!

Brooks Ghost 7 Updated Review

brooks ghost 7I love the Brooks Ghost 7, as evidenced by my willingness to not only purchase a second pair, but to buy both at full price. I’m a careful shopper and usually won’t settle for less than a bargain—especially when a shoe has been available for months. However, as my first pair of Ghosts wore down (see sole picture comparison), I tried on at least eight other shoes and kept coming back to the Ghost 7. This is the link to my first post about my first pair. 

When I bought my first pair, the only color available locally was blue/eclipse/lime. In plain terms, bright-ass blue. I was fine with the upper color, but the glowingly white sole looked bad against the blue. It was definitely a case of function over fashion. This second time around, seven months later, seven colors plus a GTX version are available. Hmm… Brooks Ghost 7 lasted 7 months and now has 7 colors. If I were a gambling woman, I might wear my Ghosts to a casino. Instead, I’ll wear them for hundreds of miles of walking.

brooks ghost 7 soleLongevity/durability is my only major complaint about the Ghost 7, but now that I realize how long I’ve had them, I’m not sure it’s a fair issue. I have no idea how many miles I’ve walked in them, but I walk between 1 and 4 hours almost every day, plus wear them to walk my dogs and do errands, so they’ve been through a lot. Other than sole erosion, the plastic that makes the end of the laces firm broke and became useless. I have to be very careful not to let the laces get pulled through their holes or I’ll be wasting time lace-fishing.

Superficially, I like several of the new color choices. My favorite by far is what I bought for my second pair—white/heliotrope/green. That color combo is pedestrian by today’s loud running shoe design standards, and I like the nod to fashion civility without boringness. Everything besides color appears to be the same with my new pair compared to my old pair, as it should since they’re the same version of the same shoe. I couldn’t believe how cushioned and firm and tall the new ones felt when I first wore them. It made me realize how badly worn out my first pair is.

The minor tweaks I’d like from Brooks for the Ghost 8 (whenever it’s released—I have no idea) are a wider toe box more like Altra shoes, better plastic ends on the laces, and a lower price. I can dream, right? $120 is a tough pill to swallow, but since I walk so much and the Ghost 7 is a great shoe, I made the investment for a second time.