Friday, June 8, 2018

Maude VS Herself

I remember so clearly the day the pain in my chest had become so unbearable that I thought I was having a heart attack.  Over time the chest pains had gotten worse and worse.  There was a definite pattern to them, by Friday they were unbearable, but by Sunday night they were all but gone.  Come Monday morning they would start to creep up on my drive in to work.

I assumed that, despite being in my mid-30s at the time, the stress of my job was placing stress on my heart.  The day it all came crashing down was in the summer, late on a Friday afternoon.  I felt that there was a sumo-wrestler sitting on my chest and I could no longer breathe.  I drove myself to the emergency room, not even cluing in at that moment that were I able to drive a car the pains were likely not due to heart strain.

I was immediately wheeled into the cardiac room of Bonner General Hospital.  Lesson learned, you tell people your chest hurts and before you can say “there’s no place like home” you’re on a table, stripped to your undies & hooked up to every monitoring device within reach.

Not a heart attack.  That’s what they told me.  Your heart is fine.  Seriously?  But I can’t breathe.  My chest hurts.  No, you are having an anxiety attack.  A what?  That’s ludicrous I thought.  I’ve never had that happen before.  They showed me the tape from the heart monitoring device.  No problems.  It’s your brain.  I couldn’t process.  They sent me home and told me to contact my GP for an appointment.

A week later I was in her office and she confirmed that it was anxiety.  How was I feeling now?  The same.  She wrote a prescription for Xanax and suggested I might give that a try when things got too bad. I never did.   Instead, I simply changed jobs.  I figured the root of my anxiety was the stress of my job and for a time it helped, as did the regular exercise I started.

I wish I could say that things got better.  They didn’t.  I went from full blown anxiety to total depression in a matter of months.  It got so bad I remember telling my husband that maybe it would be better for our family if I were dead.  This is not a joke.  I remember it was in Ponderay, Idaho, just five minutes from the Walmart on our grocery shopping trip.  It was a sunny day and I remember feeling relief about getting that off my chest.

At the time my husband was incredulous, and asked if I were serious and really thought that was true.  My gut check told me that yes, I did.  I felt I was a terrible mother, terrible wife and terrible at my job.  I was miserable in our town and in my job (yes, this was after taking a new job that I ultimately LOVED).

Over time he began to see that I was slipping.  My thoughts about my inadequacies as a human being took dominance over any positive thoughts I could have had.  The mental tug of war between the angel and the devil was exhausting.

I became disengaged from everything and my anxiety came back.  At the time I did not recognize that trying to drown my anxiety with alcohol was amplifying my depression.  I can see clearly now.

One Saturday, as almost every Saturday, I drove the mile long bridge from Sagle to Sandpoint for a grocery store trip and I saw a semi-truck coming from the other direction.  I clearly remember thinking to myself “I wish that truck would slide on the ice and push me into the icy waters below.  Then everything would be OK.”

That was, in that moment, my lowest point.  That evening, after a verbal altercation with my husband he said the words I needed most to hear: you need to talk to a therapist.  Thankfully he recognized that my behavior was not directed at him, but a product of a mental imbalance I was incapable of getting myself out of.  On Monday morning I made an appointment and by that Friday I was on Lexapro.

It took weeks, months really, for me to return to normal.  But I will admit to feeling the clouds lift even after just about a week on my meds.  I continued therapy for several months until my therapist moved to Montana.  I continued on Lexapro from 2008-2011.  Under doctor’s supervision in June 2011 I slowly ended my dependency on antidepressants.  And it was good and I am OK.

The hardest part of being on meds is the stigma that is attached to them.  People always assume you can “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” which is absolute bullshit when you’re depressed unless you can turn your bootstraps into a noose.  Mental illness is a real thing and it’s worth as much empathy, support and understanding as cancer or pneumonia.  And yes, sometimes good medicine.

Obviously I’ve decided to share my story again because of the recent news.  I was saddened to see the passing of two notable celebrities in two days.  And I am sorry for their families.  At the same time I am grateful that this has caused a light to shine on the dark places of our lives.  Yet people every day grapple with mental health issues and it’s something that is bigger than Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain.

In two days from now the news media will have some other tragedy or political scandal to talk about, Kate & Anthony will be a memory.

Please don’t forget them or the millions of other people who struggle from mental illness.  Please keep the conversation going on forever.

Tell your story without shame. 

Hold out your hand. 

Listen. 

Engage.

Support. 

Care.

Please.

Mental illness comes in so many shapes and forms.  There’s no shame in having it and no shame in getting help.  And no shame in talking about it.

I share my story and I hope others will share theirs.  And let’s continue to shine a light on all those dark places so we can work to remove the stigma that mental health is simply “all in our heads.”

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Maude VS The Marathon

I know this is my first post in about 30 years and I'm sorry.  The last time I posted I think I had just moved back to Idaho.  The past four years have been busy, crazy, scary, fun, amazing, adventure filled and also sad.  Life, you know?

I've got several stories to tell, many funny others not so much.  And as soon as life stops moving at the speed of light I'll start writing again.  But for now, this post will have to do, and I hope you read it.

As you know I was diagnosed with and survived breast cancer in 2012.  What you don't know is the aftermath.  While I did not endure chemo, the past several years have not been awesome.  After the double mastectomy and complete hysterectomy and all the anti-hormone meds I had to take, my health hasn't been perfect.  I'm not dead, so you know, there's that.

One of the most frustrating and unfortunate issues is the fact that I have experienced significant bone loss.  So significant that my running days are all but over.  I'm at the point now where most 70+ year old women are with osteoporosis.  So yeah, I guess you could say I might break a hip.

I really didn't decide to write this blog to whine about my brittle old lady bones though, I really want to share that I'm running a marathon (my first, last and only) on Saturday May 19.  Most sane people with bone density issues would shy away from attempting such a feat, but I'm not really sane so there you go.

I battled a stress fracture (again, thanks cancer you're a real peach!) for about 2 years and finally got it healed.  I decided that I better go ahead and run a marathon now while I'm not in a walker.

But I picked the marathon specifically for two reasons, well really three: 1) I want to cross it off my bucket list and 2) I am honoring a friend who lost her battle with breast cancer in 2017.  Oh, and the third reason is that I have no common sense.

Mostly I'm running for Martha Munoz Armitage, a better wife, mother and friend than I could ever be.  We were diagnosed within a month of each other.  When I saw her post treatment I had already gotten my new rack installed and she was just growing out her hair.

Martha had a more aggressive form than I did and required chemo bombs, all while taking care of three children, one of them very small.

The next time I saw her was the summer of 2016 and she was radiant.  Her hair had grown back, she looked healthy and beautiful (how I wish you could see those amazing green eyes of hers).  By all rights she was going to reach the 5 year survivor mark along with me in less than a year.

Both Martha and I had running and triathlons in common.  Neither of us had tackled a marathon yet.  Martha had begun training for a marathon late summer 2016.   She noticed that after her long runs she was tired, run down and more so than you would normally expect.  I'll cut to the chase and tell you that they discovered the cancer had come back.  Her prognosis was not good.  I could not believe that healthy beautiful woman I had just been able to hug was sick again.

The rest of the story is heartbreaking so I'll leave it at this: Martha passed away with her beloved husband by her side in early 2017.  And I cannot imagine what that was like, or how things have been for her husband and children in the months since she passed.  They are all doing as well as can be expected.

But I have thought about her almost every day since her passing and wondered why Martha and not me?  How does cancer decide who it will take and who it will leave behind?  Why did she have to go through all of that treatment only to have her life taken from her in the end?

And why did I get off relatively scott free (new front porch & wavy hair that I always wanted), aside from the minor issues I have to deal with.  I mean let's face it, death is way worse than brittle bones......

I don't know, and I'll never know.  And that breaks my own little black shriveled up heart.  From the moment she passed away I have had it in my head that I would run a marathon in memory of her.  I just had to heal that stress fracture.  And I did, finally.

For Christmas the kids and my husband bought be a bib to race in the Idaho Potato Marathon (could it be any more campy or appropriately named?!) on Saturday.

I have, for the most part, kept this part of my training to myself.  Martha has been my inspiration.  I wanted to do this for her.

If you knew Martha you would know why her death was hard.  If you didn't, well all I can say is that I wish you had been able to know her.  She was an amazing woman.

Every solo step of my training she has been on my mind, and I never came out and said anything because I feared the inevitable injury during training that would prevent me from running.  And, sadly, something did happen.

I have a new stress fracture on my other shin, which tells me that this will be my first, last and only marathon.  My bones simply cannot handle this kind of extensive running any more.  Sure, I'll be able to knock out a few miles here and there and I will.

But this marathon, the one for Martha, will be the only one I get to run.  And to be honest, I'm OK with that.

The reality of the privilege it will be for me to actually get to run those 26.2 miles is not lost.   I could be a memory, but I'm still here.  And I'm thankful.

So I will run 26.2 miles with my BRF and enjoy the hell out of every single one.  I only get to do this once so I'm gonna make it count.

I thought long and hard about a way to honor Martha and I'll probably carry a sign with her name on it through the race, but I decided to fund raise for a local nonprofit called Expedition Inspiration, which is a breast cancer research fund.

I picked them not only because their efforts likely saved my life, but because their continued work can save more lives like Martha's in the future.

I am donating $26 - $1 for every every mile I get to run that she won't.  I hope you will join me whether you knew her or not.  You can give $26, $5, $10, whatever is in your heart.  Thank you for helping me honor her memory.  I can't wait to run for Martha on Saturday.

You can find the link to the fundraiser here:  https://www.facebook.com/1294683160/posts/10216231186234394/


Friday, January 29, 2016

Why I do what I do

Four years ago today I was on an airplane back to Portland from my hometown of Spokane, Washington.  I hadn't been home since the summer of 2010 when my Dad passed away unexpectedly.

Truth be told, I never thought I would go back.  But 18 months and another death later, there I was.  And this time, the life we celebrated was also a good man, father, husband and a generous human being.  And his name was James, too.

Being home for his celebration of life impacted me in ways I never imagined.  He was my friend's husband and their children are almost the same age as mine.  I watched my friend say goodbye to her husband and best friend after a brief and fierce battle with an aggressive form of brain cancer.  And, in my hometown where I was raised, where my father spent most of his life, I found a piece of my heart that I never thought I would get back.

On that plane ride home (it's less than an hour) an idea came to me, in an instant.  It was relentless, like a two year old begging for another cookie, and I finally grabbed a pen and started writing down all the thoughts jumping in my head onto an old file folder from my carry on bag.

Both men, named James, were kind and giving people.  In the later years of my father's life he put his amazing God-given carpentry skills to work for the local Habitat for Humanity.  He supported the Custer County Historical Society, and he gave of his time, talent and treasure in many ways.

James Bennett, my dear friend's husband, also had a list of places he wished for donations in his memory to go.  Not one, but many.  That struck a chord with me.  I've always wanted to be a philanthropist, but unfortunately I'm not in a position of having a treasure trove of financial resources at my disposal.  But, as is my way, I figured out a way to come as close as I can.

On that plane ride it occurred to me that nearly every single 5K or 10K road race I was registered for had it's own cause that it supported.  But there wasn't a venue for ME to choose, at least that I knew of.  Even if there was, I felt compelled and drawn and almost REQUIRED to do something.

My plan was to create an event, a 5K/10K/Half marathon road race where the runner could choose the cause THEY want to run for, and a portion of (and someday the WHOLE ENTIRE) registration fee would go to that cause.  I didn't have a name yet, but I wrote down every damn detail of what I wanted in about 15 minutes on that plan.

Call it luck, call it genius, call it divine intervention, but whatever IT was, it wasn't going away until I put my plan into action.  I don't believe for one second that this idea just popped into my head accidentally.  No, I believe it was placed there for a reason.


And that reason is that just under four months later in the middle of planning for the inaugural Cause + Event Portland, I would be diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer, an experience that has forever impacted me both physically and emotionally in ways I never could have imagined.

Four years later as I reflect on all of this I realize this: Cause + Event is MY way of leaving a lasting legacy when I do finally leave this earth.  It is MY way of being a philanthropist and supporting causes all over the world, even in a small way, as best as I can.

It means that I will, in a very microcosmic way, have done something good out there in the universe.  I will have made a difference.  I will have shown my children the value of giving back without the expectation of something in return.   And that is at the very heart of why I do what I do.

Four years later I almost can't believe that this little dream that WE had (my friends and I) is actually coming true.  Our plan for world domination, while coming along slowly (which is part of the master plan) is happening.

We now have events in three cities: Portland, Boston, and Boise.  And we are going to announce a fourth city to open an event in the spring of 2017.  So here's the scoop.  When my Dad died a little piece of me died too.  But going back there made my heart whole again.  It made me stronger.  It made me ready to face more challenges in the last four years than I ever imagined possible.  But my heart was whole again in some strange way.  Even in the face of loss, we can still find a way to heal our hearts.

I am proud of our events and the parent organization we founded, the Cause + Event Foundation.  I'm thankful for every friend that helped along the way, every sponsor, every cause, every runner, every team.  This whole crazy train wouldn't leave the station without all of you.

This blog post isn't about tooting my own horn, that is never something I wish to do.  But I DO want to celebrate the collective efforts of people worldwide who have come together to help us realize our vision of raising as much money as we can for as many causes as we can in as many communities as we can.  THANK YOU.

And I would be a TERRIBLE "founder" if I didn't take a moment to ask every single one of you to help us spread the word about our events and what we do.  And to register.  Even if you don't live in one of our race cities, you can still participate virtually and run for YOUR cause.

We have an amazing new website www.causeandeventraceseries.com created by our friends who organize the Boston race.  And we have a very special YouTube video I hope you will watch. 

Please know that we are also 100% run by volunteers.  Eventually as we grow, that will probably have to change, but our goal is and always will be the same:  to someday have enough sponsors to cover our race costs in every city so that we can give 100% of every registration to the causes our runner's choose.

This is my opportunity to give back, to say thank you for the second chance that I received in the summer of 2012.

So thank you.  All of you.

Peace.

~AMRL




Thursday, February 19, 2015

It's very, very real...



Most of what I’m about to share is private, it’s personal and it’s about my son.  Close friends and family are aware of our situation, but there are plenty of people in my life who are not. 

But after reading this article: ADHD Definitely Doesn’t Exist, But If It Did I Would Have It   I didn’t feel like I wanted to keep silent.

I honestly don’t want to publicly “out” my kid, but reading an article that says ADHD doesn’t exist makes my blood boil.  But that’s what it was intended to do, so I don’t fault the author.  I don’t fault him for laying out his opinion on the matter, and I won’t fault him for the gross overgeneralization of the situation.
 
I’m going to lay out MY opinion, based on MY experience because I want the other side to be heard.  And the “other side” of this is a sweet little eight year old boy who can, and will, tell you that ADHD is in fact VERY real.

Once upon a time, in 2006 a sweet little red headed boy was born.  Even as a little dude he was constantly in motion.  He was happiest when he was busy, moving, entertained.  Many people will say that’s normal kid stuff, but I have two of them and I assure you they are very different in this way.

As he grew, he just got busier.  He was, and is, a very funny and insightful child, just like his older sibling.  But, as I like to say, he came out of the womb talking to the nurse and the doctor.  Talking in his sleep (for real) and talking talking talking nonstop.  Again, people will tell you this is normal kid stuff.  I will remind you, I have two and they are very very different in this way.

I have dozens of blog posts on here about both children, but many of them were always about his shenanigans and mischief at school.  He’s not a bad kid or a mean kid, he’s just busy.  Always testing the boundaries, pushing the envelope and still, the talking…

I also have photo upon photo of him with black eyes, a bumped head, or missing fingernails.  My Dad used to say “gravity storm” when the poor kid would literally off a bar stool in the kitchen, fall down while merely standing still or trip over something that wasn’t there.  

It’s tough when you’re a kid who is always in motion.  When you brain never stops until you sleep.  I remember saying he looks like a murder scene chalk outline when he sleeps.  It’s because he’s constantly in motion, on the go and can’t slow down until its bed time and his body has to catch up and re-charge.

It all sounds like normal kid stuff.  But I have two children and they are still very different.  Busy is as busy does until you have to be in school.  Suddenly there are expectations that they can’t meet, no matter how hard they try.  Their teacher whispers after school one day “he might be ADHD”, and, as it was in my case, you won’t be too shocked.  But still, as a parent you hold out hope that it’s a phase and he will grow out of it.

But then, notes keep coming home, his academic achievements are far below what you know your bright and intelligent child is capable of and suddenly he isn’t making friends.  Your sweet, fun-loving, jovial life of the party child has no close friends.  He stops getting invited to parties, but tells you about the parties that all the other kids get invited to.  Try and explain that to your 7 year old.

And, you see him interact with others and you know why.  No one wants to befriend the Tasmanian devil.  He gets more and more riled and is less and less capable of setting himself down.  You can see the irritation on their faces.

You volunteer in his classroom and notice a marked difference in him vs the other kids, minus the two kids you know already who are ADHD.  Indeed, they are very much the same.  Impulsive, busy, in motion but they are not bad children.  They are good children who aren’t made to fit in a classroom of rambunctious 7 year olds.  It’s hard to be them.

Then you watch the children he once called friends pick on him, make fun of him and say things like “why can’t you get your work done?” or (and I can’t blame them) “go away, you are bothering me.”   

And you watch how his confidence playing sports takes a nose dive because these same children also put him down on the court and on the field.

Suddenly you find yourself with a depressed little boy who feels like he has no friends and can’t do well in school.  So you try different diets, you medicate him with coffee before school (which helps for just a bit), you make him exercise a little more and you work with the school until there’s nothing else to be done.

You face facts: your sweet, fun-loving, perfect, beautiful child feels that he has no friends, he can’t do anything right, and school is too hard.  And you know he is a wonderful boy that anyone would want to be friends with, if only….. And you know how smart he is, if only…..and your heart breaks a thousand times over when he tells you, again, about a party he wasn’t invited to.

And with that in mind, you finally, reluctantly, put him on medication because you don’t know what else to do.  And it works.  And all the guilt you feel about giving him the meds combines with all the guilt you feel about not having given them to him earlier and the huge, immeasurable relief you feel that finally, after years of trial and error, worry, pain, heartache and despair, you finally unequivocally get your son back.

For every article that says ADHD isn’t real, there’s one that says it is.  And I have an 8 year old boy who can tell you what life is like with ADHD and what it’s like with medication.  Two totally different worlds, two totally different children, but they are still, and always, the same sweet, wonderful, perfect, friendly, caring, giving children you raised.  

For everyone out there who says ADHD doesn’t exist, there’s another 8 year old boy or 11 year old girl who can tell you that thank GOD their parents did what needed to be done to make life the way it ought to be for them.  I can’t imagine what it’s like to be that child, but I can tell you what it’s like to be their parent.   

And reading things like this that say ADHD isn’t real is upsetting, to put it mildly.

If I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t hesitate to put him on meds, I’d just have done it sooner.  I have my son back, and I’m thankful for that much.


Monday, June 23, 2014

The end of June

Late June is a hard time of year for me.  It wasn't always, certainly not at all until 2012. 

Late June should be the most fantastic and anticipated time of the year.....the afternoons stretch out like a cat just waking from a nap.  Evening hangs around like the friend who just can't seem to say goodnight. 

The warmth in the sun holds the promise of lazy days by the pool, sleeping in, drinking coffee in your PJs and not having to be anywhere for anything. 

And yet....

I didn't recognize it at first, certainly not last year.  But I'm a little edgier, a little more touchy, slightly withdrawn and a tad on the melancholy side right about now.  It hit me, today, on the drive down to the O.C. (that's Oregon City for us Portlanders) to pick up my daughter from basketball camp.

And when it hit, it socked me hard, in the gut, like my brother used to do when I wasn't looking.  The tears came, and they wouldn't stop.  It all came back again. 

June 24, 2012 (that's two years ago tomorrow): I found the lump in my right breast that turned out to be the one thing I never thought I'd have: cancer.  Mind you, I don't keep that day in my brain.  I remember July 12, that's the anniversary of my mastectomy.

No, I don't consciously hold on to that June 24 date, but apparently deep inside my heart I've been keeping track.  I lost my shit today when I realized how close I am to that night, two years ago, when I was laying in bed talking to my husband and scratched under my breast and found it. 

Yes, it's true, I have a sweet new rack and the wavy hair I always wanted (thank you menopause), but the price I paid to get here was steep.  I am thriving, make no mistake.  I'm just an emotional wreck sometimes, and I probably always will be.

Today I was out on a training run, it's taper week for me, in the heat and humidity and I had an epiphany of sorts.  I tend to do my best thinking with a little Jason Aldean blaring in my ears, crunching gravel under my feet and the sun, high in the sky as I fly along the path between the guardians, the trees that line the Hollister Trail across from Nike WHQ.

I made the decision, months ago, that after Pacific Crest Olympic Triathlon this coming Sunday, that I would take some time off from training.  A long time.  Will I still run?  Absolutely.  Will I race?  Definitely.  Will I be a slave to a training plan and miss out on any more precious moments with my family?  No.  Not for a long, long while.

Today I realized that two years ago I was training for my first sprint triathlon when I found the lump.  I was eating not enough and training far too much, and I lost just enough weight that the tumor was actually visible in the mirror.  I just never noticed.

So to me, it's so fitting, and ironic, that two years to the day that I made the decision to pull out the big guns and fight fire with an atomb bomb by undergoing a painful mastectomy and breast reconstruction (really, I didn't do it for the new boobs, I swear) I'll be completing an event that, while tough, can never hold a candle to what I endured two years ago. 

And it's the event that was the catalyst for me finding the cancer in the first place.

So here I am, coming full circle.  I'll be taking on yet another big challenge, one that I'm probably not prepared for (again!), but I know that my family will be there with me, cheering me on, just like the last time. 

I can't tell you what that means to me.

June is always going to be hard.  I'll probably always withdraw, cry a little bit, and be on edge for a few weeks.  But I always come back around.  I always survive.  Just like I did two years ago.