New Blog!

Please visit my new website and blog at Thanks!

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Real Hero

All smiles and optimism at 5:30am on race day.
As I sit here, enjoying my hot coffee in the early morning hours, another young mother is in the hospital, fighting for her life. It takes me back to two years ago, when I was this woman. I was nine months post-partum when I was diagnosed—she was fifteen weeks pregnant. I too was bald, sick, weak and struggling, like she is now. I had no idea if I would make it. But I am Caucasian, so I had several donor matches in the registry, and because of my highly aggressive form of AML, I had a transplant almost immediately after my first remission.

This woman is Vietnamese, and because so few Asians sign up to be donors, she can’t find a match. She has relapsed and her cancer is now very aggressive (when leukemia comes back, it is smarter and more vicious). If she doesn’t find a donor soon, a beautiful little girl will lose her mother. A husband will lose his wife.

Setting up in transition. This is where the nerves kick in.
My heart hurts when I think of her. My throat closes. I can smell the horrible pink hospital soap. And at the same time, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. Life is weird that way.

A few weeks ago, I raced my first ever Olympic-distance triathlon. After all the poor prognoses and myriad doctors and training and injuries and setbacks, it was an utterly amazing victory. I swam in the ocean in Vancouver, my heart city, I cycled around UBC, my alma mater, and I ran along Spanish Banks, my old stomping grounds.

Getting to the start line was a victory. Surviving the full contact swim was a victory. Racing the bike was a victory. Passing people on the run was a victory. Crossing the finish line was…let’s just say that I hugged my kids, husband, sister, friends and parents and then cried like I won the Ironman World Championships.

I did it.

No going back now!
My hope was just to finish, ideally in under three hours. But somehow I also won a medal. I ended up finishing second in my age group and nineteenth overall. I was genuinely shocked. Not only did I finish, I was actually fairly competitive in a large field of West coast athletes.

Cancer girl to podium? Who would have guessed it?

I do have to thank one anonymous male competitor on the bike leg, who, upon passing me on a very slight incline (ahem, not a hill), told me in a condescending tone that I should come out of the aerobars on the “hills”. He didn’t have aerobars himself, and I don’t like being passed by snide people who give unwelcome advice on things they clearly know nothing about. So I shifted, mashed the pedals and silently whipped past him, never to see him again. Don’t mess with cancer girl.

My favourite part of the race - high fives with my son.
(As a side note, before the race I was going to write: “I beat cancer and now I’m beating you” on the back of my shirt. My husband thankfully convinced me not to do such a foolish thing, but in that moment I sort of wished I had.)

That said, I clearly wasn’t going hard enough before that encounter, so thank you, Unsolicited Advice Man, for annoying me enough to make me ride faster.

Two years ago, accomplishing something like that race was nowhere on my radar. Doing a triathlon was on my bucket list, sure, but once I got a bit too close to that bucket, it didn’t really seem possible. I could barely walk one hundred metres without needing to sit on the curb. I was an emaciated, hairless, eyebrow-less wreck (it paints such a nice picture, no?). I had days where I crawled up the stairs to my room. Somehow, with every painful slow step, girly pushup and yoga session, I clawed my way back.

But only because someone gave me the chance.

With my donor’s immune system running through my veins and organs, I was able to survive not only leukemia, but also what came after: H1N1, multiple bouts of pneumonia, a sprained ankle, many rounds of gastro viruses, shingles, a pulled hamstring tendon, a torn calf muscle and a stress fracture. Through all that “bad luck”, I still broke twenty-one minutes in a five-kilometre running race, taught myself how to race a road bike, and built over fifteen pounds of muscle. And then I raced an Olympic-distance triathlon and landed in the top twenty women overall, winning a silver medal in my category.

The sky’s the limit now.

Looking back at my 2012 emaciated self, I am really not sure how that happened. And I certainly don’t recount these things to sing my own praises. I recount them because I want my kids to learn what it means to never, ever, ever give up. I recount them because I want people like Mai Duong to keep fighting when they hear my story. I recount them because I want people to join the stem cell and marrow registry. I recount them because I wouldn’t have done any of it without my donor, and I don't know how else to thank him.

I write and share my personal triumphs and heartaches because I want other people’s worst nightmares to end with a swim in the ocean (and ideally, a medal). If you have followed my story and it has inspired you in any way, please spread the word about Mai Duong. She should get to swim in the ocean too. And then go online and get registered. It really only takes a few minutes. When you save a life, you really do save a whole family.

Because in the end, I am not the real hero of this story.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Like a Drowning Cat

I had a brief moment a few weeks ago, one of those life-flashing-before-your-eyes moments, where I was sure I’d feel pretty stupid for surviving cancer only to drown in my first triathlon.

Tombstone reads: “Drowned in her own stupidity.”
My nervous "I-hope-I-don't-drown" smile
(note the little whitecaps in the water).

First off, I am not a weak swimmer, so drowning has never been something that I feared. I swam competitively in high school (a long, long time ago) and I have always been very comfortable in the water. I’ve been training in the pool for seven months, aside from my unfortunate pneumonia layoff, and I had become stronger and significantly faster.

Going into the sprint distance race, a warm up for my longer, Olympic-distance Vancouver triathlon this week, I felt like the bike leg was the only part that I needed to worry about. Every triathlete wishes they had more time to train, and I am no exception. I felt like I never had enough time on the bike. But it turns out that training for three sports, plus strength work, plus yoga, plus raising children and running three businesses is a little bit tricky.

But I decided long ago to just embrace the chaos. Because as much as we all talk about balance, is life with young children ever really that balanced? (Definitely not if you're crazy enough to toss in an endurance sport or two. Or three.)

I am somewhere in there (definitely not at the front).
So there I was on the riverbank, staring at little whitecaps frothing in the water, pulling nervously at the neck of a borrowed wetsuit (right side out this time). I wondered: are wetsuits supposed to feel like they are strangling you?

Then the gun went off and we hit the water in a mad frenzy. I may be a strong swimmer in the pool, but I had never, ever been swimming in rough, choppy water. (Because really, why would you?) I was completely unprepared for how much I was tossed around. Every time I turned for a breath, a wave crashed into my face and I inhaled the river. (I tried not to think about how often that particular river has dangerously high levels of E. coli.) Sputtering and choking, I tried to breathe more often, which only resulted in inhaling more river. Every time I raised my head to look where I was going, my wetsuit pressed down firmly on my larynx while I coughed and spat out water.

“I can’t breathe!” I yelped, not really meaning to say it out loud. Very loud. A lifeguard on a paddleboard turned to me and yelled, “Do you need help?” Mortified that I might be pulled out of the water on my very first triathlon, I plunged back in and swam hard to the shore. (I heard later that it had been the roughest conditions ever for that race, and lots of people were pulled from the water.)
Death grip on the aerobars.

I have never been so relieved to be on solid ground. I almost kissed the sand. I didn’t know until after the race that what felt like the longest, most horrible swim of my life was actually only eight minutes and forty seconds. Not really that bad for five hundred(ish) metres of near-drowning.

Miraculously, my wetsuit came off easily and I was onto my bike in minutes, soaked and freezing (I hadn’t anticipated that very unpleasant aspect of triathlon). I settled into the aerobars, happily passing people left and right. Once I got to the run, I took off in relief. The transitions were over, I didn’t drown and I didn’t crash. I was elated.

Running, after all, is my thing.

I got to the finish simply ecstatic that I had survived. But when they posted results, and I started looking towards the bottom of the first list, I was dismayed that I couldn’t find myself. I knew I had a bad swim, but had it really been that bad?

I went back towards the top to look at the winning times and was shocked to see my name jump out. Second in my age group, tenth woman overall.

Maybe triathlon is my thing?

Later, when I lamented the fact that I had only missed first place in my category by ten seconds, the ten seconds that I likely lost while yelping like a drowning cat, my husband insisted it was good that I lost.

If I had only run ten seconds faster!

“You can’t win your very first triathlon,” he pointed out. “You’d be insufferable.”

To be fair, it was a small race and I’m sure I will be stomped on in Vancouver, where the race is longer and the competition fierce. But it was intensely fun (aside from the swim, which was really not). If I can figure a way around the wetsuit-choking-me-to-death problem, I think I will be just fine.

Anyone want to come cheer?

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Rookie Move

I’d forgive you for thinking, after reading this post, that I concoct ridiculous scenarios just so I will have something to write about. I kind of wish that were true. But no. I just make bad decisions, or I don’t think things through, or I have bad luck. And sometimes I’m really just a bona fide bumbling idiot.

If you’ve been reading the last few posts, you’ll know that I had shingles recently. You might also know that I got shingles only six days before my first running race of the season. Did I toe the start line, you may be wondering?

You’re darn right I did.

No bandits here.
Now, you may be like some of my running friends who thought I was awesome and tough for doing the race with shingles. Or you might be like my sister-in-law, who wrote to me: “You raced while shingling?! You know that sounds nuts, right?”

Yes, I guess it does sound slightly nuts. Would it help if I told you that my doctors said it was fine? No?

To be honest, my biggest concern for the race was what to do about the hideous, flaking rash on my neck. I dug up a red bandana from my son’s Toy Story “Woody” costume (no lie), thinking I’d wear that around my neck and joke about bandit racing. I contemplated gauze and medical tape, but thought that a huge piece of gauze on my throat may raise just a few alarm bells. I considered makeup, but then realized that heat, sweat, and gobs of makeup do not make for happy bedfellows. In the end I decided to just leave it alone and reassure those around me that I wasn’t a leper.

The race went surprisingly well. Not a personal best by any means, but I did come nineteenth out of over nine hundred women in my age group. A shingles record, perhaps?

But the real highlight of the last few weeks came just this past weekend, when I decided to do an open water swim workout for the first time in years. Since my big Vancouver triathlon is coming up soon, and I had a sprint triathlon "practice race" scheduled, I figured it was time to practice swimming without lines on the bottom of the pool telling me where to go.

The joys of spring.
I borrowed a wetsuit from a generous friend and got up early to hit the lake on Sunday morning, when lots of swimmers are always out there. Since I’d never put on a wetsuit before, and I really did not want to embarrass myself in front of a bunch of seasoned triathletes, I went into the change room where it was nearly pitch black (due to a burnt out light bulb). 

I’m betting that maneuvering your body into a wetsuit is tricky at the best of times, but I squirmed and stuffed myself into that thing while barely being able to see. I was actually pretty impressed with myself.

Emerging onto the beach, all slick and pro-looking in my cool wetsuit, I felt like a real triathlete at last. I even remember thinking it was kind of nice that my wetsuit was blue, instead of the usual black.

When I emerged from my first loop of the lake, I was standing beside another swimmer ready to go again when she looked at me and said: “Is there some sort of advantage to having your wetsuit on inside out?”

Yep. This actually happened.

Now, I really wish I had been thinking fast enough to come up with a confident remark like, “Oh yes, I swim way faster this way!” But I just blurted out: “It’s inside out?!” To which she blurted out: “You didn’t know?! The blue goes on the inside!"

Psst. The blue goes on the inside.
We made a good joke of it and I explained about the dark change room. I acted all cool, like it was totally no big deal, when in reality I wanted to drown myself in the murky lake. I have never been so mortified. Ever. (So much for looking all slick and professional.)

I took off around the lake again anyway. That blasted thing was hard enough to get on the first time. I wasn’t about to flip it around and try donning it properly while sopping wet. I swam hard and fast, trying to prove somehow that I wasn’t a total loser. When I returned to the shore, I pulled the wetsuit off underwater before walking onto the beach. At least I knew enough to wear a swimsuit underneath. There is that.

Back in the change room, I was almost dressed when a woman came in chatting with a friend. They both remarked on how dark it was in there, and then she said: “Well, you can kind of understand how that woman got her wetsuit inside out if she changed in here.”

I just smiled and high-tailed it out of there. Thankfully, in the dark and without the swim cap and goggles, they had no idea that moronic woman was me.

But really, the very best part of the story is that this triathlete and her friends saw my inside-out wetsuit, and instead of snickering and assuming that I was an idiot, they thought that I must have done it on purpose and wondered if there was some sort of performance benefit.

Because really, who wouldn’t know that her wetsuit was inside out? Who?!?

And also, I have to ask… is there any other sport in which someone might wear something obviously backwards or inside out, and other athletes would wonder if there is a secret benefit to such a ridiculous mistake? I love triathletes.

So thank you, kind women at Meech Lake, for assuming that I was a savvy triathlete with a secret trick, and not just a complete ignoramus.

Maybe we can be friends?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Hard Pill

To be clear, I know this is a hyperbole, but I am starting to feel a little bit like Job. And before you jump down my throat, I do realize that my situation is not remotely as dire as his. But I can’t help but feel like I’m being tested. Every time that I feel like things are settling, every time I start to feel a little bit happy or at least that life is under control – wham. Something "challenging" happens. And I’m getting just a wee bit tired of people telling me that my body is sending a message or teaching me a lesson. How many life lessons is one person meant to learn? (My son’s answer: infinity. I fear he may be right.)

Now, I am not starting a “woe is me” post, don’t worry. Because maybe that is just life. Maybe these things happen so I will never run out of stuff to write about. Maybe it’s nothing special to me and all these hiccups (and explosions) are to be expected. Everyone has upheavals and illness and injuries to deal with. I'm nothing special. I've started to feel like cancer is a normal part of everyone's life - until I tell my story to someone new and they are utterly shocked. And when friends start saying, “Wow, you have the worst luck!” And, “I can’t believe that happened to you again!” And, “You need a break, lady!” Then you start to wonder if it is indeed you, and not life, that is attracting calamity.

Less time for work means more time for
Mother's Day tea at school.
Example number one: at the end of April, I was finally feeling like I had things on track. My parenting was improving (no more yelling), my kids were healthy, my professional life was going well, my business was growing and I had planned to use my “extra” time in the first few weeks of May to finally set up a proper website (you thought I didn’t know that I need a proper non-blogspot website, didn’t you? Well, I know).

My first mistake? Looking at my calendar and thinking I’d have “extra time.” You moms out there know that is code for the universe to give you a sick or injured child, right? Never even think it.

More time for selfies!
I went to pick up my daughter from her part-time daycare and allowed her and my son to jump on the trampoline while I spoke to our lovely daycare provider (you can see where this is going). Well, there is a reason why gymnastics centres only allow one kid at a time on trampolines – you ER nurses know what I mean. There I was, happily chatting, when…BAM. A fall, a shriek, a trip to the children’s hospital, a fractured tibia, and a thigh-to-toe cast. Fantastic.

So, as you likely can guess, my “extra time” was completely sucked up with doctor’s visits and carrying my broken baby around, as she certainly could not go to daycare or anywhere else. But, as with all calamities, there is usually some sort of upside. I had more quiet time with my daughter, and I had more rest, as I had to skip those second workouts that I try to squeeze in.

And children are incredibly resilient. Ten days later she got a weight-bearing cast, and within a few days she was up and walking on it. Dancing, even. I had to plead with her to please not jump on her casted leg.

Then I went to Las Vegas. Yes, I gleefully kissed my family goodbye to have three days with friends at a work conference in Sin City. The pool and sun and friends and training were all amazing, and I came back inspired, though definitely not rested, to jump into life full-force (as if I ever do anything else).

Example number two: exactly five days after my happy return from Vegas, I started to get a pain in my neck. I thought it was from swimming, so I merrily continued on. I did a ninety-minute trail run, my neck sore but my legs strong, and the next day I did a two hour bike ride followed by a twenty minute run (the famed triathlete “brick” workout – because that’s what you feel like afterwards). That night I noticed a rash on my neck – I thought it was from the heat of my magic bag and ignored it. The day after that was my rest day, but we decided to do a bunch of digging and gardening, so it was not exactly “restful.” My neck was getting increasingly sore and that’s when I noticed the blisters. Somehow I immediately knew.


The dreaded adult version of chicken pox. If you’ve had it, you know that the pain is some sort of cross between spikes being jammed into your body and someone holding a lighter to your skin. I have a really high pain threshold and I am still taking the strongest pain medication they can give me. (So if this post makes no sense, just blame the drugs.)

On a 6am run in Vegas.
Apparently I do Vegas "wrong."
The irony of this tale is that I’d been on antivirals to prevent shingles for nearly two years. I just stopped taking them two weeks ago, against advice from my transplant doctor. He said I was free to stop taking them at any time, but he’d recommend I stay on them indefinitely. I figured it was nearly two years post transplant, so my immune system should be rocking, and I didn’t want to take any medication “indefinitely.” Like many, many other things in life, I was so very wrong.

Am I sick of being knocked down? Of course! I have my first running race this weekend and have no idea if I will be at the start line. I am tired of always having something to “fight,” of always pulling myself up and staying positive, of always digging deep to “rally” against whatever is bringing me down.

But am I angry about it? Not really. It seems like a perfectly logical consequence to my own actions – training hard, going off the prophylactic medication, not enough yoga, and not enough sleep.

Doing Vegas "right."

The bigger question is: am I going to do anything differently? As much as I want to inspire, as much as I want to achieve, it’s high time to recognize that I just cannot perform at the same level that I used to.

This is a hard pill. I am not the athlete I once was. I may never be. And I might just have to be okay with that.

So here is what I’ve decided. I might not be what I want to be, but if one person, just one person with a cancer battle or other life struggle, reads my story and is inspired not to give up because I didn’t, then it will all have been worth it. Right?

As for today, I’m just going back to bed.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Learn This

Sometimes the only answer is a martini.

Wait, that sounds bad.

Sometimes the only answer is… um….well…yep. Still a martini.

First off, I need to apologize to some of you most loyal readers for abandoning you for so long. I lost a bit of my mojo when my most tough-loving transplant doctor banned me from competing in Hawaii. I was so defeated that I just couldn't write for a while. I took some time off training, did a lot of yoga and meditation, and became a devoted regular at my gym. (Really. I’m on a first-name basis with the owner). I gained some muscle, got really good at squats, got my lungs back, and finally jumped back into the pool (quite literally). Now I am training for the Vancouver Triathlon in July, where I will wear a Team in Training race kit and make all of you sponsors proud. In March 2015 I will compete in the Lavaman Triathlon as promised.

Now. Back to that martini.

I had to make a big decision yesterday, a decision that I’ve been wrestling with for two years. I had to decide whether I was coming back to my PhD, or letting it go to pursue a different life.

I won't go through all the agonizing details and conversations that went into making this decision. But in the end, it just seemed crazy to go right back into my former, stressful, high-achieving academic life as if cancer had never happened. I could not make sense of anything in the last two years if that’s what I was going to do. At least if I took a major left turn in my life, then cancer (maybe, sort of, kind of) made sense. Not that I really believe that we get cancer to learn life lessons. But we learn those lessons whether we were “meant” to or not. Cancer is not a gift, and I will never say that. But it is a wake up call. And like any human, I like things to make sense. I like things to have a reason. And if cancer had no reason at all except to pour trauma onto my family and wreak havoc on my body…well… then the only answer is definitely a martini.

One thing I know for sure. When I was lying in that hospital bed, hearing the word leukemia and thinking I was going to die, I was flooded with overwhelming regret, thinking that I had just spent the last two years I was ever going to have being stressed out and unhappy.

Trust me, that is not how you want to go out.

And whether I have two years left or forty, I want to spend them happy. I know better than most how tenuous life can be. You can have everything mapped out, you can have your perfect five year plan, and then ka-boom. Cancer. Car accident. Aneurysm. ALS. Freak fall down the stairs. Heart attack. The universe has unlimited creative ways in which we can leave this world without warning.

So if you learn anything from me at all, learn this: if you are always stressed out and unhappy, it is time to change your life. Your future is not guaranteed, and you don’t want to spend your last year or two on earth being a miserable human being. (And you definitely do not want cancer to be the way you learn this lesson. Trust me.)

 I know one more thing for sure: 2012 was not my year to go. God has other plans for me. I’d like to believe that we all have something to do before we kick that proverbial bucket.  Whether I have a small role or a big one, I am clearly not done, because I am still here. And I have to respect that by doing life right.

So… what am I going to do, besides drink that martini?

I’m going to live life fully. I am going to love deeply. I am going to have adventures. I am going to spend as much time with my kids as I can. I am not going to play it safe. I am going to help others less fortunate than I am. I am going to travel and dance and laugh and run. And I am going to write about it all.

And hopefully, I will find my role somewhere along the way.

Sunday, March 2, 2014


For a long time after my diagnosis, I found it nearly impossible to dream. I don’t mean dreaming while I was asleep. I mean dreaming of future possibilities. All I could think of was the past, everything that had happened to me, everything that I had done that I regretted, everything that I had done that I was thankful for. But I could not think of the future, because I didn’t trust it. I didn’t know if I had one. I feared what was next for me. I’ve written about this before, I know, but I heard a quote the other day that made me want to revisit this topic. Because this doesn’t just apply to cancer. This applies to anyone whose life has been shattered or upended by an unexpected trauma.
Olympic dreams!
I was running on the treadmill the other day (yes, actually running) watching yet another Ironman recap (it’s an addiction I can’t break – one that will surely lead to an impulsive, er, stupid Ironman registration sometime in the future). I find it particularly motivating to watch other people suffer through the insanity of a marathon through lava fields after already racing for six or more hours. It keeps my 45 minutes on the hamster wheel in perspective. But Ironman races are not just about the swim, bike and run. Many of the people in these races are overcoming huge demons. They are proving something to themselves about what is possible. In the footage I was watching that day, there was a father completing the race whose daughter had been killed in the Sandy Hook massacre in December 2012. I remember that day vividly, as I’m sure many of you do. I was less than six months post-transplant and in a very fragile state. I cried for weeks, wondering how those parents could ever go on.
But what this dad said during his Ironman interview is now stuck in a loop in my head. He said he had always dreamed of racing the Ironman world championships, long before his daughter was ripped from him. When that happened, when his world exploded, their family could never be normal again. A piece of them was gone forever. With two children of my own, I cannot even begin to imagine this heartbreak. I lost a lot of things to cancer, but nothing that compares to this father’s loss. Yet, this man and his wife made a conscious and very brave decision to keep living their lives as they imagined their daughter would want them to. They chose not to go down the path of “why me” because they felt that would take them into a dark hole from which they would never climb out. As someone who knows the “why me” trap very well, avoiding it is much easier said than done.
And then the father said something that really stayed with me. He said that he was doing the race to show his son that it was still OK to have dreams. That it was OK to pursue your passions and live your life fully, even after everything that had happened.
At that moment, I realized that this is why I write. It’s also why I train. I want others to see that there can be a full, abundant life after cancer or other traumas, regardless of how long or short the rest of that life might be. I want people, and especially my children, to see that even after heartbreak, loss, injury or illness, it’s OK to have dreams and pursue big, crazy goals, even if you have to reassess from time to time (or if you have to reschedule). It’s more than OK. It’s vital.
One my favourite quotes that I’ve come across in my yoga training comes from Gil Hedley: “Our brokenness may explain us, but it doesn't excuse us. You are charged to pick up your pieces, and recover your wholeness.”
Indeed. When we survive a trauma, we must eventually resurface and repair ourselves and rejoin the living world. We simply cannot live in the aftermath forever. There is the reality of mouths to feed and bills to pay, of course (which can feel like a harsh reality after surviving cancer or another trauma – after all, shouldn’t the demands of the real world just pause for us?). But there is also a full, amazing, abundant life to be lived. What a waste of survival if I chose to live bitter and angry, or simply on autopilot, for whatever remaining years I have left.
But trauma or not, it’s a waste for anyone to live like that. We are all of us broken in some way or another. What we choose to do with that is up to us.
Running (and swimming and cycling and yoga and meditation and prayer) is how I pick up my pieces. Yes, I have been known to push too hard and put myself into a hole (exhaustion, stress fracture, pneumonia, blah blah). Sometimes we charge forward to avoid looking back, and I am definitely guilty of that. But when we move forward with an acknowledgement of the past and how it has changed us, rather than simply running from it, we can truly put ourselves back together. Training for an event and keeping my body in motion helps me to do that. It helps me to separate myself from the demons of radiation and chest catheters and hair falling out in clumps in the hospital shower. It helps me to realize how fortunate I am to be out of that place. It helps me to realize that those things do not define me anymore. I am no longer a sick person. I have picked up my pieces. I am someone new.
The only question now is, what big, crazy dream are you going to pick for your life?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Tough Love

I should know better than to plan. Honestly, I should just sit back and let the river of life take me where it will (even if I usually end up on the rocks), because absolutely nothing that I plan ever turns out the way I thought.

Cheers to a healthier home.
Case in point: last week. I was finally feeling better on Wednesday and planning to catch up on neglected suitcases, housework, laundry, yoga, and writing, when my son’s school called to say that he had a head-to-toe rash (oh and by the way, they added, there was another outbreak of scarlet fever at the school). So my plans were a puff of smoke, and we spent the next three days at the doctor, at the pharmacy, doing laundry (anti-bacterial cycle, anyone?), playing board games and watching cartoons. 

Work? No. Workouts? Definitely not. Two days later my daughter spiked a fever and I was back at the doctor, the lab, and the pharmacy. As if the flu, norovirus and pneumonia had not been enough, we now have scarlet fever and strep throat in our house. (Let’s just say that we’re currently bathing our children in Purell.)

Case in point, number two: my epic triathlon adventure. I wanted to make a great story. I wanted to do something that post-BMT people almost never do. I wanted to see what was possible after being a deathly, emaciated spectre and coming back to life with new DNA. So I signed up for a triathlon without owning a road bike and without the ability to run (high mileage + osteopenia = pelvic stress fracture). When I committed to the event, I was so terrified and thrilled and inspired, that I forgot about setting realistic goals. (Apparently I also forgot to tell my husband. Oops.)

The training was going well (except for the running part, which was not), only… I was exhausted all the time. Friends (and my mom) were getting worried. Constant 6:00am workouts were wearing me down. I was relying on coffee to get me through the day (not ideal if you're osteopenic). But I had a goal, darn it, and I kept going. I was inspiring people, or so they told me, and that encouraged me. And yes, I pushed it, because that is what I do. I was committed, so stress fracture or not, I wasn’t stopping.

Until my body stopped me.

As you know if you read my last post, I ended up in the hospital for IV antibiotics due to pneumonia a few weeks ago. I’m feeling a lot better now, though the fatigue persists. When I went in for my follow-up two weeks ago, my hematologist asked what I was up to these days.

When I told him about my training (and mistakenly mentioned the stress fracture), he sighed. “You can’t do that race.” This is a doctor that I like and respect a great deal – he has always been straight up with me and has been at my side since day one – but in that moment I wasn’t feeling the love.

“Of course I can!” I replied (I’m not great with authority). “It’s not until the end of March. Obviously I’ll be better by then. It’s not like it’s an Ironman.”

He sighed again. “Look, most people who are eighteen months post-transplant are just trying to get by. Many are hospitalized frequently. They are not chasing after two little kids, starting businesses, becoming yoga teachers, writing books, training for triathlons and whatever else you are doing. That’s too much.”

I wanted to say, "Yeah, that's why I'm awesome." But instead, I became an embarrassing puddle of tears, essentially validating everything he just said. I felt about twelve years old.

“I have such bad luck!” I wailed, sounding like a child crying it’s not fair (admittedly, not my best moment). All my hard work, all those gruelling early morning swim sessions, all those long rides on the trainer – for nothing? (You mean I could have been sleeping all that time?) I was devastated. But nothing I said could convince him otherwise. No race. That was his medical directive. I knew it was tough love – he truly has my best interests at heart – but that didn’t make me like it any better. I decided I would wait until the next week and get another doctor’s opinion. (Never mind that the sports medicine doctor had already told me not to race over a month ago. Never mind that at all.)

After he left, my favourite nurse came up to me and said: “Look, if you were the average post-BMT patient, we would not be discussing whether or not you could do this big race. We would be discussing graft-versus-host disease, prednisone side effects, kidney problems, lung damage, and a whole host of other major health issues. The fact that our discussion is about a triathlon at all is pretty awesome.”

In other words: get a grip. This is a minor setback. It was incredible that after all I’ve been through, I could even consider such a race in the first place.

But that’s just it. I’ve been running full-tilt from what happened to me. Most of the time, I don’t think of myself as a leukemia or BMT survivor. That's not a label I want. I never consider that I can’t do something just because I’ve had cancer. I’ve been training so hard and going after my goals as usual because in my mind, I am my old self. Cancer-schmancer. That never happened. Two years erased from my life. 

Moving on.

Good old rest.
Except that I’m not my old self.  I might never be. This is the reality of surviving cancer. 

They irradiated my brain and body with lethal doses. I had insane amounts of chemicals pumped into my veins. I have someone else’s immune system trying to live inside me. No one is normal after that. As much as I’d like to behave as though it’s all behind me, my body and mind are still recovering from what happened eighteen months ago. I do not handle stress as well. I am more emotional and less focused. I am still considered “high risk” for things like the flu, pneumonia, measles, and other infections. And any athlete can tell you that long endurance sessions suppress the immune system, which is probably not what I want to be doing right now.

So what do I do? Do I fold and just accept that I can’t be who I want to be, just yet? Or do I do what I always do and push on? Or… do I make a new plan, even though I know my plans almost never work?

I returned to the clinic last week, hoping that I’d see a different doctor with a different opinion. My doctor must have known that was my plan, because he made sure to see me himself. Despite the fact that I was almost entirely recovered, he maintained his stance:

“If you do that race, you will die, because I will kill you myself.” (That is a direct quote. I failed to remind him that this would surely violate his Hippocratic Oath.)

When I resolved to do less this year, I had no idea that would mean that I would suddenly be forced to do almost nothing. Of all the people in my family that got sick this Christmas, I was the only one who got pneumonia and was almost hospitalized.

Dreaming of warmer, lazier days.
But really, it’s not bad luck. Both the stress fracture and the pneumonia were direct results of not adequately resting a body that’s still in recovery (as much as I hate to admit it). Some people are couch potatoes. I am the opposite. I am really, really terrible at resting.

On the flip side, my entire medical team has told me repeatedly that the reason I am doing so well is because of all the exercise I do. Go figure.

So now I feel that I owe all of you an apology. I committed to something, I got everyone excited, you got behind me and sponsored me with your hard-earned money, and I am supremely grateful for that. And now I cannot do what I promised, or the doctor that saved my life might kill me.

But since there are too many people fighting blood cancer that need our help, and since there are too many people lying in hospital beds that can't run, and since Isaac Cote died before he had a chance to really live, and despite the fact that my plans never work... I have a new plan. I will not get myself killed (at least not on purpose), nor will I let you all down. Instead of my original goal, I have decided to race the Vancouver triathlon in early July, which will be only a few days after my two year BMT anniversary. It seems fitting that I will race in the hometown that I love, swimming in the ocean where I grew up, with all my family there to cheer me on. And then, in March 2015, I will finally get to race the Hawaii Lavaman. Of course I have no idea where I will be or what my health will be like a year from now. But I can’t fear the future forever.

My husband has been kind enough to point out that this is a much less insane goal. It will give me time to build some muscle and bone to prevent injuries, it will allow me to ride my bike outside (which, if you recall, I’ve only ridden once outside, ever), and it will also give me a chance to practice on aerobars, which I’ve never used. I will get to train in open water, and perhaps by race day I will actually be able to run. In retrospect, the race in March would have been a horribly crazy gong show. All in all, this is a much more logical plan. (But, seeing as I'm all about the crazy, I still like my first plan a bit better.)

So here I go. Slowly, carefully, recovering, reassessing, re-planning, reconfiguring, but not giving up. 

Never giving up.

Still with me?