A Note from Fatty: Free Verse Friday is taking a break today, because I want to write this instead.
From time to time, I get an email that hits home. Here’s one I got yesterday:
I wanted to ask if it would be okay to use “Crying is for Climbing” as one of my class materials for a didactic I’ll be teaching to new chaplains on Spiritual Care of the Caregivers that I’ll be teaching next week.
I’m a board certified chaplain, and while my specialty is trauma and disaster response, Crying is for Climbing is really quite universal. I will be spending some time talking about the role of physical activity in self-care of the caregivers, and understanding how certain people (many people?) process emotion through physical activity.
I’ve found “Crying is for Climbing” to be a great short piece that describes this effect in the most clear and concise way I know. I also like that it’s not overtly spiritual, so it’s highly applicable in the multi-faith chaplain world that I need to teach in.
In other news, I’ve also often found “Like Dandelion Seeds” to be incredibly useful in my line of work. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been with families the day they get the “yeah, you’re not going to beat this” talk- they know it’s going to be a sh*tstorm, and I can’t tell you how many people feel better being able to read Dandelion Seeds and know that someone else has put words to the storm.
They appreciate that you did not sugarcoat it, and that you know it gets bad. It’s been a great piece to have in my toolbox when people ask me the “what do I do next” question. I hope you get to realize at some point that, even though you wrote that at some of the worst moments of your own life, it’s been incredibly helpful to plenty of other folks, and continues to be helpful.
Please do let me know if it would be okay to use “Crying is for Climbing” in a class for new chaplains. Good luck on the next race!
Assistant Rector, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
First, this email made me grateful: grateful that someone is finding Susan’s battle helpful to others. That’s her legacy. Or at least one of them.
Second, this email reminded me that it’s been months since I’ve written anything for the Fight Like Susan book. I’ve had a fun summer racing, but I need to get back to work.
Thanks for that reminder, Betsy.
By all rights, today I should be writing about stage 2 of the Breck Epic. And I was really excited to write about it, too. Because it was immediately after stage 2 that The Hammer took this picture of me:
And I was not hamming it up for this photo, either. That look — the “I have been through hell” look — is absolutely genuine.
But I’m not going to get to talk about it ’til Monday (because tomorrow is Free Verse Friday), nor am I going to get to post the even better equivalent picture I have of The Hammer ’til then. Which is unfortunate for you, because I’m looking at it right now for the millionth time and it is still cracking me up.
And now that I think about it, I might not get to it ’til Tuesday, because Monday I’ll want to talk about Ed Perrey’s awesome new Ibis Mojo and the weekend we will have had mountain biking my local trails.
Instead, today I’m going to subject you to my in-progress reasoning on USADA’s Reasoned Decision on Lance Armstrong.
I apologize in advance.
You Should Know Me By Now
I’ve been writing this blog longer than some of you have been alive (assuming some of you are younger than eight years old). Which means that — thanks to the twin miracles of a big ol’ archive and a search box in the top-right corner of my blog — if you take the time to look, you can see that this is not the first time I have been witness to the drama of a top American cyclist being implicated in a doping scandal.
You might find it instructive to go back and read what I said about Tyler 1.0. Or Floyd 1.0. (For what it’s worth, I believe Tyler is currently in version 3.0, while Floyd is still having a rough time getting 2.0 into beta).
Just in case you couldn’t be bothered — and I wouldn’t blame you, though my feelings might be a little bit hurt — to read those two posts (and, for bonus credit, the posts that came before), there’s something similar about them.
I presume innocence until proven guilty.
This isn’t just me parroting the US justice system. This is a personal philosophy, and I work hard to apply it in every aspect of my life. I even extend it, and presume good intentions until bad intentions are proven (not just suspected).
It’s a philosophy that works for me. I like it, and I’m keeping it.
The thing is, if you know me at all (i.e., read my blog, as opposed to just parachuting in to chide me from time to time for hiding my head in the sand), you had to know that I would apply this philosophy to Lance Armstrong as well.
Reports from single-source “reporters” who clearly have an axe to grind? Pfff. Allegations? Well, they’re called “allegations” for a reason.
But when Armstrong didn’t contest those allegations, thereby hastening judgment and — now — the reasoning behind that judgment, that’s a finish line that’s been crossed.
To me, the (uncontested, nor seriously disputed) evidence is compelling. In the absence of any compelling counterargument, the threshold of proof has been crossed, and I can’t presume innocence.
I hate writing “Lance doped,” but to continue presuming innocence now flies in the face of my personal philosophy every bit as much as presuming guilt prematurely does.
So. What does this mean to me?
I’ll start with the easy one first. Based on what I’ve read, it’s impossible to reassign who won what, or which records were set during a big swath of time for pro cycling. Should Lance keep his seven yellow jerseys?
Should George Hincapie be allowed to claim he has raced in more Tours than anyone else?
I dunno (although USADA seems to have decided he should, since it backdated suspensions to begin after his retirement).
Should anyone get to claim anything from that period, seeing as how it’s vastly improbable that everyone who was doping during that period has confessed?
But I’m being facetious when I say, “I dunno;” I really mean, “It doesn’t matter.” Because no matter what is done officially, some people will regard that change (or lack thereof) as illegitimate.
And frankly, I don’t care very much about this part. It’s too messy to argue. It’s impossible to resolve.
But how about the suspensions and bans (not just for Armstrong, but for the numerous people named as witnesses)? Are they too harsh? Too weak? That’s hard to say, because it requires you to assess what is a fair punishment for varying amounts of cheating. No matter the conclusion, it never sits right.
The part of Lance’s life that I really care about, however, remains unaffected by USADA’s reasoned decision: LiveStrong.
Lance — supported by an incredible cast of talented and hard-working people — created a foundation that does an immense amount of good. I’ve experienced that good firsthand. So did Susan. So have my twins. So have a large number of people I’ve referred to LiveStrong, to get the support and help they need.
Lance cares more deeply about the fight against cancer than people know. Lance has worked — and continues to work — incredibly hard at making LiveStrong fulfill its mission. It’s what drives him.
And he’s gone out of his way to help me in my efforts to support LiveStrong. He’s been a friend to me and my family in hard times, and I value that friendship.
I expect that LiveStrong will be hit hard by this decision, but that doesn’t even remotely affect my intention to continue supporting it. The fact is, the closer-up I see LiveStrong, the better it looks.
Do Something Good, Redux
Of course, I don’t expect everyone to agree with me on that, and honestly I’m not particularly interested in battling it out with anyone.
So how about this:
If you can’t / don’t / won’t support LiveStrong, how about supporting Young Survival Coalition?
Yep, you don’t get off the “help the fight against cancer” hook so easily as that. In fact, today is the last day in a contest where you can win a Giant TCR Advanced SL, set up with a Shimano Dura-Ace 9000 group. Or a GoPro camera. Or Dura-Ace pedals. Or other things. So click here for details, and then click here to donate.
Whether you align yourself with LiveStrong, YSC, World Bicycle Relief, or anything else (or everything else) is up to you.
What I really care about is that you do something good.
That will never change.
A Note from Fatty: We are down to the last two days of the Tour de Pink Contest where you can win a Giant TCR Advanced SL, outfitted with the all-new Dura-Ace 9000 11-speed group, not to mention a bunch of other fantastic prizes. Click here for details, or click here to donate for a chance to win.
A Note from Fatty about today’s story: This is the second part in what’s probably going to be an enormous number of posts about the six-day mountain biking stage race known as the Breck Epic. Read the prologue here before you read today’s installment. Unless you’ve read it already, in which case you should feel free to continue on without reading the prologue.
I’m glad I could clear that up for you.
When the Breck Epic began, I was immediately grateful for something I would have otherwise probably not have even thought about:
The first two miles or so were paved.
As someone who desperately needed to spend a few miles just trying to work the soreness out of my legs, I couldn’t have been more grateful that we didn’t immediately leap onto hard-climbing singletrack.
At first, I was worried. My legs hurt with every turn. But really, I didn’t have a lot of options. Indeed, my options were:
- Keep going
- Slow down
- Go faster
And of course I’m just kidding about the last option. And I didn’t like the second option. So I kind of made do with a combination of options one and three.
Wow, I just spent an incredible amount of time saying, in effect, “I slowed down.” So I must be writing literature now.
First Taste of Dirt
By the time The Hammer and I got onto singletrack, we were at least moving. Importantly, we were even moving with the main group. Climbs got steep quickly, with the singlespeeds all around us having to dismount.
We’d stay on our bikes, though — for a while. Eventually, though, we’d run out of gears, and we’d be facing a decision: burn a match and power on through? Or get off the bike and march?
We did the safe — and wise — thing: with very little in our tanks and nothing but unknown terrain ahead of us for the rest of the day (not to mention week), we’d get off and walk.
Of course, for every climb, there’s eventually a descent, with plenty of each coming frequently. Check out the elevation profile from my Strava of the day:
That’s 39 miles, with 6386 feet of climbing. And note that there’s nothing even remotely approaching flat. And most of it is singletrack. Of which a fair amount is technical.
So it wasn’t a big surprise that within the first five miles or so, The Hammer crashed on a descent. She was up on her feet by the time I stopped rolling, moving quickly off the trail to make way for other riders to get past and continue on.
“Are you OK?” I asked.
“I’m fine,” The Hammer replied, shortly.
Now, I’m going to let you in on a little secret I have learned only after a couple years of marriage with The Hammer. “I’m fine” is code for “I’m anything but fine, but I don’t want to talk about it.” All would come clear, though, as a giant bruise would appear on one of her legs — the first of a total of nineteen bruises (actual count) The Hammer would have by the end of the week.
Neither of us noticed that all of her food had fallen out of the Bento Box she keeps on her top tube.
Where’s the Aid Station?
I worry that I’m drawing an incredibly unflattering picture of The Breck Epic: marching, exhaustion early in the race, and crashing.
You need to understand that this is simply the way I remember the first day. While I suppose every trail exists objectively out there on its own, nobody rides the same trail, ever. Your mood, experience, and energy all color what the trail looks like to you. You’ve probably noticed this yourself: the second time you go and ride a trail, it seems much shorter than the first time you ride it.
Similarly, if I were to go back and re-ride the first stage of the Breck Epic, I expect I’d fall in love with it (as I fell in love with a lot of the trail in the third through sixth stages).
But for now, my recollection of the day is that everything was steep (probably steeper than it really is), and long (probably longer than it was) and excessively technical (you get the picture).
All I could do was endure. Hang on. For as long as I could.
But how long would that be?
And the crazy thing is, I was thinking all of this before we even got to the first aid station.
Speaking of which, where was that aid station? It was supposed to be ten miles into the race, but we had gone way more than that. The Hammer and I were splitting my food (of which I had brought plenty), but the day was warming up and our bottles were empty.
Then — finally! — there it was: the first aid station, right around fourteen miles.
I ate most of the orange wedges they had cut up, going through them so quickly and messily that the girl across the table had to walk away.
I filled my bottle with the sports drink they were providing, tasted it, and then poured it out.
I’d make do with water for the rest of the day.
To the Pain
As the day went on, my knee began hurting worse and worse. Before I got to the second aid station, I had begun slowing down, unable to put much power at all into climbing. I’d have to get off the bike and march for easier and easier climbs.
The thing is, marching hurt worse than riding.
Except when I was riding. Then riding hurt worse than marching.
And in short, my left knee was killing me, and I just wanted the day to be over.
I kept going. I told myself that I would not quit.
Then it occurred to me that the fact that I had just told myself that I would not quit meant that at least a part of me had come to the conclusion that quitting was a reasonable thing to be thinking about.
Quitting had entered my internal conversation. That was new. And not welcome.
The Hammer, meanwhile, was slowly but surely dropping me.
That was new, too. And also not welcome. You see, while in my blog I talk up — completely honestly — how strong and fast The Hammer is on a bike, I’m also thinking to myself, “But I’m still faster than she is.”
Except I wasn’t. Not anymore.
We’d be riding together and then — without me ever really noticing the moment it happened — she’d be a couple bike lengths ahead of me, instead of the one bike length I usually stay behind her.
And then four bike lengths.
And then she’d be out of sight.
It wouldn’t matter, either, that I’d be thinking to myself, “Go faster, Fatty. Keep up.” She’d still be dropping me.
Then, when she noticed — to her surprise — that I was no longer anywhere near her — she’d stop and wait for me.
And the cycle of misery would repeat.
After The Race, Which Is Before The Race
We finished the first stage of the Breck Epic. Somehow, with The Hammer towing me and me endlessly dropping back — not using my left leg at all for the last ten miles of the stage — I got across the line. 5:29 of riding. Ugh.
We rode our bikes — downhill, on pavement, mercifully — back to our condo, where we got cleaned up.
Now we needed to eat. The problem was, neither of us felt like eating. We were both sick to our stomachs.
The irony of two peopel who normally love eating more than any two people should, suddenly free to eat as much as they like, and now suddenly unable to enjoy eating at all, was not lost on us.
We sat on our couch and watched Judge Judy, trying to get the strength together to go to a restaurant.
We decided to walk, because the streets of Breckenridge were busy; we’d have a hard time parking.
We intended to stop at the first restaurant that sounded good, which should have been easy; we like pretty much everything, and there are a lot of restaurants in Breckenridge.
But nothing sounded good today. We walked past restaurant after restaurant. Finally, most of the way through town, we stopped at a pasta place.
Which we found, once we had sat down, was no longer serving lunch, but was not yet serving dinner.
So we made a meal of a few appetizers. Which we could not finish.
We walked home. Me limping. Secretly already figuring out how I would phrase the sentence where I told The Hammer I didn’t think I could do this. But i couldn’t figure out a way I liked to say it, so I didn’t.
Not yet anyway.
Having eaten (sort of), The Hammer and I went back to the Breck Epic HQ tent, where the daily awards ceremony was underway.
Astonishingly, The Hammer and I had podiumed!
Okay, maybe it’s not that astonishing, since we were one of only three Coed Duo teams racing. And we had taken third for the day.
Still, hey. Podium!
Except — and I am not making this up at all — my left knee hurt so bad that I had a very hard time even climbing up onto that teeny-tiny third podium spot.
After the award ceremony, we went grocery shopping, figuring that henceforth, we’d eat out less and cook in more. Because that way when we were too tired to go out, we could just eat bacon or gnaw on a block of cheese or something.
I liveblogged my bit part in Leverage while I iced my knee, hoping it would feel better soon. Real soon.
We went to bed by 8:00pm.
And I was up by 8:15, barfing what little I had managed to eat since the race.
I came back to bed, telling The Hammer, “Well, at least that’s over.”
Then, at 8:20, I was back in the bathroom. Dry heaving.
By 9:00pm, my stomach stopped trying to get rid of stuff that wasn’t even there and I was able to come back to bed.
“I don’t think I can race tomorrow,” I told The Hammer.
“See how you feel when you wake up,” she replied.
And that’s where we’ll pick up tomorrow.
A Note from Fatty About the GranDonut Race: Remember the Gran Donut Race Report, and how I said I’d post the video as soon as it was available?
Well, it’s available now. Check it out. Right now (although I recommend watching it bigger over on the Vimeo site).
OK, go ahead and watch it again. I’m going to.
Yeah, that was pretty amazing, right? Massive Kudos to Jamie at Daydreamer Cinema for the filming and editing of this. It exceeded my (remarkably high) expectations by two orders of magnitude. And that’s a lot.
A Note from Fatty: This is part of my race report for the the 2012 Breck Epic. My writeups for all parts of this story can be found here:
Backstory AKA Why It Took Me So Long To Get Started On This Story
The 2012 Breck Epic started almost exactly two months ago. Two months. I never take that long to write a race report. In fact, as a rule, I write race reports within a day or two of the event.
But here’s the thing: The Breck Epic wasn’t just a race. It was the one and only thing The Hammer and I did, for six solid days. It absolutely, completely consumed the two of us, and we only barely managed to pull it off.
So for the past couple months, whenever I started thinking, “I need to tell the story of this race,” I’d panic a little. Sort of like I remember panicking when, as a kid, I had to write a “What I Did Last Summer” essay.
There was just too much to tell.
So I’d write about something else. Something smaller, something easier.
But a couple days ago, something that now seems obvious occurred to me: I don’t have to write about the whole Breck Epic all at once. I don’t have to write multiple posts on each day of the event (if I were to write the number of posts per race day that I usually do, the story would be around eighteen posts long).
All I need to do is write a blog post’s-worth of story, each day.
If a story arc emerges, great. If not, oh well. If one of the posts is a top-10 list of things from this race that still haunt my dreams, well, that’s going to be OK too.
So now, after nine paragraphs of throat-clearing, I’m going to start telling this story. At the pace I feel like telling it.
The Night Before
The Hammer and I had just finished the Leadville 100. As in, we had finished it six hours ago. Since then, we had packed all our stuff, wrangled it down the steep stairs of the hotel (The Delaware in Leadville was built before elevators, or something), waited for friends and family to cross the line, and had dinner.
Then we made the drive to Breckenridge. The entire way there, we did not talk about the race course. We also didn’t talk about our hopes for a top finishing place in our category. We didn’t talk about our race strategy, nor what unique challenges racers in the Coed Duo category face.
No, we had larger concerns.
The entire way up, we talked about how — with our incredibly tired legs and bodies — were we going to be able to get our luggage from the truck into the condo we had rented for the week (note that one of the very nicest things about the Breck Epic is that since every stage begins and ends in Breckenridge, you don’t have to move between stages).
We concluded that, if necessary, we’d have to take many, many trips — because we had a ton of gear with us, not knowing what kind of weather the trip would bring — up and down the stairs, carrying whatever we could.
Honestly, we just didn’t know if we could do it. We were already so tired.
The unasked question — unasked because it was so obvious and neither of us knew the answer — was, “If we’re so tired we don’t know how we’re going to get our luggage into our condo, how are we going to do forty miles of racing the next day?”
Or, for that matter, the day after that. And the one after that. Etcetera and so forth.
Plus, there was the matter of my left knee. It hurt, even to walk. I had given everything I had to give in the Leadville 100, and was worried about how I’d do the next time I got on a bike.
We pulled into town, found a space in the parking garage below the condo we had rented, and encountered a miracle:
Luggage trolleys. And elevators.
We both started laughing. And then, maybe a little bit, crying too.
We woke up the next morning, took turns pooping, and then suited up for the day.
We tried to make breakfast: scrambled eggs with mushrooms and onions and tomatoes, all wrapped up in a nice warm tortilla. One of our favorite breakfasts.
“I don’t feel like eating,” The Hammer said, picking at the breakfast she would have — on a normal day — snarfed down instantly.
“I’m having a hard time eating, too,” I said. But we both knew that we had to eat. That we were already working with a pretty massive calorie deficit from the previous day.
So we made a bargain with each other. We’d make ourselves eat at least half our breakfast.
We were both walking stiffly. I, however, was walking stifflier.
“We’ll loosen up once we start riding, we told each other. Hey, maybe it was true. Neither of us had ever gone on any ride the day after the Leadville 100, much less on a race.
To myself, I thought, “Well, I’ve at least got a couple of advantages. I’ll be racing with gears, for one thing, so I can spin if I need to.”
“And,” I thought, even more secretly, “I’m faster than The Hammer. So going at her race pace won’t be too hard on me.”
We put together our drop bags, which would be waiting for us at two aid stations along the route. Extra clothes.
Salted nut rolls. PBJ sandwiches. Coke. Honey Stinger waffles, chews, and gels. [Update: The Hammer has reminded me that on the first day of the race, we didn't pack any of these things I have stricken out. My memory is faulty.]
We went down to the garage and got out our bikes. The Hammer would be riding the same bike she rode at Leadville: her hardtail Superfly. I’d be riding the bike I rode at Leadville last year: my HT Stumpjumper. In reserve, we had two more bikes: my singlespeed Stumpjumper, and the Superfly 100. So even if we had a bike or two completely self-destruct, we’d be able to keep going.
We rode our bikes — s-l-o-w-l-y — to the starting line, arriving about twenty minutes before the race was to began. We were already taking starting times a lot more casually than at Leadville (where we were set up 45 minutes before the gun went off at a minimum).
To my surprise, there were guys I knew there: Mo Lettvin, a guy I met more than ten years ago when he and I both rode the Cascade Creampuff, then became riding buddies and friends when we both wound up at Microsoft. Mo looked great and had an easy, relaxed look about him. He was here just for the experience: to ride gorgeous Breckenridge singletrack for six days, straight.
Then I saw Dean Cahow, a buddy I met and rode with at Leadville every year for more than a decade. Except now he’s given Leadville up in favor of the Breck Epic. He was planning to ride a singlespeed this year. And he wasn’t alone. There were a lot of singlespeeds here.
I began to develop a theory: the reason I won the SS division in Leadville is because all the fast SS riders had elected to ride the Breck Epic, instead.
With a few minutes to go, I wondered: Why don’t I have the pre-race pit in my stomach? Shouldn’t I need to be peeing one last time right about now?
Evidently not. Evidently, I thought to myself, pre-race panic takes more energy than I have right now.
And then Mike McCormack started the race. The big question The Hammer and I had — could we do this? — was about to get answered, one way or the other.
Which is a good place to pick up tomorrow.
A Note from Fatty: We are still right in the middle of the contest where you can win a Giant TCR Advanced SL, outfitted with the all-new Dura-Ace 9000 11-speed group, not to mention a bunch of other fantastic prizes. Click here for details, or click here to donate for a chance to win.
A Note from Fatty About Today’s Guest Post Author: Jenni Laurita has been a reader and commenter on this blog for years and years. Much more importantly, she’s been a Team Fatty Philly powerhouse fundraiser and troop-rallying organizer. She is one of the absolute nicest people you could ever meet, has an incredible smile, and — when push comes to shove — is the first to volunteer to ride a lime:
Shot while a group of us were walking around during the Ride for the Roses a couple years ago)
Jenni is also a breast cancer survivor.
A few weeks ago — along with lots and lots of other people — waited and worried that her breast cancer had come back. And I — along with lots and lots of other people — was incredibly relieved when tests (finally!) showed that it hadn’t. I’m pretty sure that the shortest email I have ever received from Jenni is also the best. It was just one word: “Benign!”
So this year when — like last year — it came time to select a ride ambassador from Team Fatty to ride the Tour de Pink, Jenni was already top-of-mind. I asked her to go do the three-day ride this weekend and bring back a report, telling us all about it.
For today, I asked Jenni to tell her story, for a first person account of what the fight against breast cancer is like for a young woman. Read it, and then make sure you take the time to donate in the fundraiser we’re doing right now. Because while winning a bike would be cool, helping a foundation specifically targeted toward helping people like Jenni — or Susan, or Michelle — is even cooler.
My Cancer Story, by Jenni Laurita
“Yes, the results are here, but the doctor who reads them won’t be in until Tuesday, “ the increasingly rude receptionist said.
“Well, is there any doctor there that can read them? I’m really nervous.”
“There is, but he’s not the one who reads the tests.”
“You’re going to leave me waiting until Tuesday to find out if I have cancer because another doctor can’t give me my results?” I said, Friday afternoon.
“Ma’am, even if he could read you the results, if it was something bad you’d have to come in for an appointment”.
The next call I got about 10 minutes later simply said, “Can you come in right now?”
And in that office that day I heard the word for the first time.
I really don’t think I heard any other words that day other than “cancer,” over and over again. I don’t remember the doctor’s name, I don’t remember his description or speech, I only remember “cancer” and his unusually hairy arms — it was like a pelt of thick arm fur.
I was 33.
I sat in the parking lot, unable to drive, and I called my mother. I said, “Well, I got the best of the worst news” and told her that at this point it seems like we had caught it extremely early. In what amounted to a mistaken prescription given to me for a mammogram I was rightly too young to have prescribed by a doctor who had his license revoked for drug and alcohol abuse (and whom I tried desperately to avoid getting an appointment with that day), I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Very tiny “grains of sand” showed up in the moonscape image of my right breast. I had no intention of following up on his prescription, until at the end of the appointment he looked in my eyes and said, “Promise me you’ll go.”
And so began my journey into the awful world of cancer. I had test after test after test. Every shadow, every perceived anomaly in both breasts was biopsied, a titanium marker left behind each time to mark the areas of concern. I look forward to the day I own a titanium bicycle, such a matchy matchy girl I am.
I turned into a human pincushion. The first few made me very upset; needles and I aren’t friends. By the last biopsy of that year, though, I was over it. I didn’t even stop eating my apple while the now-familiar team did what they do.
I had surgery in what can only be described as the most archaic and anachronistic of medical procedures, the details of which I’ll spare you. I bounded up the stairs post-surgery to cheerfully say goodbye to my surgeon, I was wearing Livestrong yellow.
And bad news: not clear margins, another surgery.
I asked if we could do it now. Today. Let’s go, get this done. My surgeon described how I needed to heal first before they cut me or it would be like shredding the carving of the Thanksgiving turkey. I had long become accustomed to people’s careless words. It seemed each conversation lately started with a story about someone who died of cancer, someone who had a botched surgery, someone who was currently dying.
If I could impart anything to the world through this forum it’s this: ask how the person is doing, offer help and support (from the mundane to the elaborate if you’re so inclined), and then zip it.
Ultimately, I did not need chemotherapy and — against medical advice — I refused radiation. I prayed, I meditated, I read scientific studies until I couldn’t see straight. And I listened to my body telling me the right choice for me; radiation was not without its risks. My inner voice saved my life before and I promised myself I’d never ignore it again. I could deal with recurrence more than I could deal with betraying my instincts and myself.
My surgery was Halloween 2008 (yes of course I showed up in costume, and insisted my cat ears and tail stay on); I was declared “cancer free” December 1 after the second surgery.
And so began followup.
Every three months, some form of test. Then I could stretch it to six months. Finally, I was put in the annual category: a momentous day!
Then, a few months ago, I went for a routine checkup to schedule my routine MRI and was told they don’t do that anymore, insurance is giving too hard a time paying for MRIs. Long story short, I fought and insisted on the MRI and got it. And then I got the phone call.
“The scan is not clear.” And then all I heard was a bunch of Charlie Brown teacher noise: “Wah wah wah wah.” I made it through the phone call, hung up, and lost my composure.
Ok, losing my composure would be stubbing my toe and spilling my coffee. This was composure-obliterating ugly-cry. Through choking sobs I called my mother. Again. And again, heard her wishes that she could take it from me. And then I told my new sweetheart. Welcome to the world of being with a cancer survivor. He stepped up like a hero and held me every step of the way, what a monument of love.
In rare fashion, I shared my struggle with many people around me. I was loath to hear people’s scary words, but the support and love and outpouring of awesome from so many far outweighed the scary stories which I have now become adept at interrupting. Team Fatty family rallied around me. There were offers to drive hundreds of miles to be with me, there were frequent texts, calls, emails.
So the cycle began again, test after test after test. Targeted ultrasound, mammogram, enhanced mammogram, extra pictures mammogram. Each one failing to give me an all clear. I needed MRI-guided biopsies.
After a week of waiting for availability and more tears than I could count, I had my MRI biopsies and in the most-underwhelming call of the decade, I got a nurse on the phone to matter of factly tell me:
I hugged the first person I saw, whom — thankfully — I knew. Strangers in Wal-Mart were not so lucky when my mother found out.
So now I’m back to three-month follow-up, and though I’m not completely out of the woods right now, I’m well on my way.
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