When you love to do something, it is hard to hear that you can’t do it for a while, especially when it is not your fault.
Before I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I was running 25 to 35 miles per week, training for my first marathon.
When the doctor told me that I would have to miss four weeks of running following my bilateral mastectomy, I was devastated. I thought to myself, “Well, I’ll have to do something.” So, I walked a lot and then rode my bike during those four weeks.
The next hurdle was chemotherapy. In my case, I’d have six treatments over the course of four months. I got a seven-mile run in with my friends on New Years Day. It ended at the ocean, with us in it, up to our thighs. The next day was my surgery to put a port in. Two days later was the first chemo treatment.
My doctor told me to run during chemo and to exercise as much as I felt I could. At first I thought, “no problem.”
I learned after the first round of chemotherapy that it wasn’t going to be so easy. The first day of chemo, I was injected with a lot of steroids, anti-nausea medicine and TCH, my chemo drugs that stand for Docetaxel (Taxotere), Carboplatin (Paraplatin), and Trastuzumab (Herceptin). It was a five-hour ordeal the first day; future visits would be three hours. When I left there, I had so much energy. I thought “This will be a breeze.” The first day, it turns out, is not indicative of the ones that follow.
I’ve had four total treatments so far, and have continued to run, but it’s been more of a challenge in some ways than I anticipated. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned:
I can’t run the first week after a treatment.
The first weekend I am on so much anti-nausea medicine and the chemo starts to set in so I am not hungry. I usually lose 10 pounds the first week because I am not hungry and my taste buds are off. This means I don’t consume a lot of water (it tastes gross) or enough food to have energy. The first week I am really tired as well which makes it difficult to exercise. I also have expanders in my chest, in order to have implants put in this summer, and I have to get injections into the implants right after the chemo treatment. This also makes it harder for me to run as it makes my chest tight and hard to breathe. I’ve accepted that my body just needs this time to work on fighting my cancer and it’s okay to not be ready to run immediately.
I can’t run as hard or fast.
The second week after chemo, I am feeling much better. I try to start running again almost exactly a week after the treatment and have realized that it is a few minutes or more slower per mile and it is hard to breathe and I have to walk some.
It is disheartening because I worked so hard before surgery to run in the mid eight-minute-per-mile range on runs, high-seven-minute pace in short races. I can’t get to the top of the large causeways connecting the beach to the mainland right now and have to walk. I need to just understand it and stop fighting it. I tell my friends to just talk while we run and I will listen, talking takes too much out of me … stupid chemo.
As I go through more treatments, I am realizing it is accumulating in my body and the tiredness is lasting longer and the breathing is difficult. Not eating much lasts longer as well, which makes it hard to exercise…no food, no energy. Sometimes, it is taking me a few extra days before I can run again or taking more days off in between my exercising.
The final week before chemo again, I am at my best and feel like I can conquer the world. I squeeze in as much running as I can and I can make it to the top of the causeway and my pace gets faster. Then the cycle starts again, but it is not forever. As I type this, I have less than two months of chemo to go!
My running community lifts me up.
The running community is very supportive and I am blessed to have a lot of running friends. When I had surgery, my running friends pitched in and provided my family with a basket of gifts and gift cards and everything had to do with “feet.” When my hair fell out, I started wearing a running hat when I would run and never felt scared. I felt like I could be who I am and “this is me.” I went to a large 3K race with my hat on, no wig, and never felt uncomfortable. I don’t feel I can do that at my school and other places. This will have to change come summer, as it will be too hot for me to wear a wig in Florida.
Running with no hair is invigorating.
Right now, a thin running hat feels lighter and I am sure I will appreciate it in summer. Sweating is different. I feel as if I don’t drip with sweat anymore like I did when I had hair. My hair will take awhile to grow back after I finish chemo in April, and I wonder how much faster I will feel I can run once the toxins are out of my body and I have my speed back again.
I can’t commit to as much in my life right now.
I need my sleep more often sometimes and am never sure when that is. I want to see my friends run races and I want to volunteer at races and it’s so hard on me because I don’t know how my body is going to react. I would love to be able to tell my friends “yes!” to every invitation. It is hard because I am a planner and I’m someone who commits to things and an always true to my word so it drives me crazy to not be able to do that right now. I miss not being able to choose the races to run if I wanted to run every weekend. I had to give up running some of my favorite races and others that I really wanted to do this year because my treatment.
My friends are great though and welcome me with open arms to any meetups I can make it to. I am thankful for their friendship and not letting me go, which I have read can happen.
I feel that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle, but I know that he sure is trying me with this treatment. I look forward to future races and events I have coming up after treatment is done to keep me focused. This is not forever and fortunately, I have a lot less treatments than others I have met. I am thankful and blessed and know that this the biggest obstacle I have ever faced but I know I will overcome it. I will be stronger when it is over — mentally, emotionally, and physically — and will have many years left to run, exercise, and be with my friends and family.
Kara Turey is mom to daughter Kennedy and wife to husband Colin. She lives on Florida’s Space Coast where she works as a school counselor at a private school. If you’d like to send a message to Kara, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Tags: breast cancer