Two years ago my life changed forever. A little over two years ago I went to my doctor for bloating and discomfort and two weeks later I was diagnosed with appendix cancer. Those two weeks were a whirlwind of doctors appointments and scans and surgery and ended up creating so much uncertainty and anxiety and fear in my life. I had no idea what the next 8-9 months were going to look like. I had no idea how terrible they would be. I had no idea the wonderful support and love that would pour through the mail, the internet and in person. I truly cannot believe where I am two years later. I am a week away from fleeing the country visiting my perfect niece and her parents in Italy. I am getting stronger every week; I actually have muscles again. That’s very exciting. I don’t get exhausted doing things that shouldn’t exhaust a normal person. I don’t need 10 hours of sleep a night like I did even a year ago. I don’t need afternoon rest time anymore. It was so frustrating to feel good but still be so fatigued all the time. I can hike and run and kayak and do all my things. I’m not the old me mainly because I’ll never be that person again. Cliched as it may sound, cancer changes you.
When reminders like the one on the right pop up it’s just strange now. I like my hair right now and am happy with the length, but the reminder of how long it was two years ago and how I got to today is still really difficult, no longer devastating as the initial hair loss was, but the short hair was never my choice. I actually like the hair on the far right better than the hair on the left. It has taken a long time to get there. I tolerated the hair in the middle because I was so glad my curls came back. I’m still not sure anything would have helped me deal with the hair loss any better. It was unfortunately something I had to go through.
I had another set of scans a few weeks ago. I had another set of clean scans! My quarterly scans snuck up on me this time around. I don’t even really have the “scanxiety” I read so much about. I don’t feel like I’m living in three month increments. I’d rather they are scanning me and checking everything out. I feel good and don’t have any of the symptoms I had two years ago. I’m easily paranoid about little things, but when they go away I’m fine. What I went through is often on my mind still, but not necessarily a fear of recurrence. When your face is literally everywhere at work it’s a little harder to not think about things, but I’m still so glad my story is out there. Now if only all those pictures and stories linked to my fundraising.
At least I don’t go to our main page that often.
The intranet though, all the freaking time.
The elevator as I walk into work. Thank goodness I work on the first floor.
I have raised over $7000 for the MCW Cancer Crush and my team, Run with Renee, which is amazing and has exceeded all initial expectations. Every dollar means a lot to me. Donations have come in from Italy and Costa Rica (thanks awesome Backroads people!), down the street, and across the country. I am not done fundraising and it is not too late to join. Please consider donating or joining the team. The culmination of this event is on September 22nd and is either a 1 mile or 5 miles run or walk! I can’t wait to see so many of you out there. Even if you can’t join us in Milwaukee on September 22nd you can be part of the team. Please consider joining. Runner friends – this is a great price for a 5 mile run and the money goes to cancer research!
I’ve never fundraised for a race before but this cause means so so much to me. Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin saved my life and this is such a great way to give back. It would be great if I could turn just a few more of those facebook likes into donations. Every dollar counts. I spoke with someone in the development office and found out how they will be disbursing the funds raised and am really quite happy with the grant process they will be using. Researchers will have to write grant proposals and they will be reviewed by a committee. I’m still hoping I can make a push that some funds are earmarked for rare cancers. Our little orphan diseases need the funds. No idea if this will happen, but I’ll try.
Sometimes I think I should stop making a big deal out of every set of clean scans I have, but I don’t know why I think that and I don’t think it’s true. I will celebrate being cancer free for the rest of my life.
Friends, family, co-workers, everyone! Join me this summer for the inaugural MCW Cancer Crush. Cancer Crush is a summer-long run/walk/bike challenge to get active and raise money to fuel lifesaving cancer research at the Medical College of Wisconsin in partnership with Froedtert Hospital. I see this as a great way to give back to the Cancer Center that very literally saved my life. Do it for me. Do it for you. Do it in memory of someone you love. Do it to support the amazing physician researchers at MCW.
Their goal is to have over 2,000 participants – help get to this number! Let’s see how many people we can get to join Run with Renee.
Set a personal goal. Set both a goal for the total miles you’ll walk, run or bike during the summer as well as how much you plan to raise for cancer research. Whether your target is 10 miles, 100 miles or 1,000 miles, challenge yourself, your coworkers, or your friends and family and have fun while supporting lifesaving cancer research.
Spread the word. Tell your friends, family, co-workers — everyone! — about our challenge to raise money for cancer. Join Team Run with Renee!
Start your challenge. Start your challenge any time this summer. Ride your bike to work during the week, take a stroll during your lunch hour, go for a run after work or take longer rides on the weekend. Let me know if you want to run, walk or bike together this summer! The important thing is to have fun and feel good because you’re doing this for an amazing cause: to help science crush cancer!
Mark your calendar for Saturday, Sept. 22, as we complete the last 1- or 5-miles walk/run, cross the finish line and celebrate at a daylong celebration featuring live entertainment, food and fun! I will be running 5 miles! Join me.
Raising Funds for Cancer Research
Proceeds from Cancer Crush will advance the lifesaving work of researchers at the Medical College of Wisconsin Cancer Research Center and serve cancer patients and their families in Milwaukee and beyond. Join the challenge or make a donation today, and help us reach our goal to raise $400,000.
I’ve been thinking about how to write this for two weeks. This race meant a lot of different things. But first off, it was a super fun weekend away with friends and family.
We took Friday off so we wouldn’t be rushed and enjoyed a beautiful afternoon in Door County that included packet pickup, a little meandering, sunshine and beer.
Race morning in Door County is always weird because it is a late start. I was up early because I always am so had some breakfast, braided my hair, got dressed and then still had lots of time to wait. Once we got to the park we had time to overthink our layers and ditch them as needed. Spoiler: any layers were too many. Mo and I had an earlier start since we were running the half marathon so we left the others and walked to our start line. I lined myself up further back than I wanted, but at what was a reasonable spot for what I could accomplish that day. I set out with my run 9/walk 1 plan and my Garmin beeped at me 9 minutes in so I walked. I felt a little stupid walking that early and when I felt that good, but that was my plan and that was how I trained so I did it. I felt great the first 4-5 miles. By mile 6 I started questioning why on earth I was even running the event. It was getting warm and my body wasn’t happy. Miles 6-7 were miserable. I questioned everything. I didn’t want to do it. I told myself I couldn’t. I was at a very bad place mentally but made myself keep moving forward. I By the time I made it to 8 miles I was feeling better, but I was walking more and I wasn’t mentally okay with that, but I had no choice. Once I made it to mile 10 I knew I could finish, but I also knew I hadn’t run further than that since July of 2016. I just kept running and pushing myself. I had to stop looking t my watch because it was even slower than I had anticipated. I paid just enough attention to be able to spring the last quarter mile or so to the finish. I knew all my friends and a camera were there. Turns out I still have my strong finishing speed somewhere in me and I crossed the finish line fast, strong and with a huge smile. The first thing I saw was my oncologist, with my medal. I knew he was going to be there, but had no idea he was going to hand me my medal. That was unbelievably special.
I don’t know if I fully grasped what I was accomplishing that day. I really just wanted to run a half marathon again. I wanted to have a normal weekend in Door County with my friends. This was the third year we went up and it’s a great little tradition we have started. The video that was put together about me sums it up pretty well. If you haven’t already watched it somewhere else I shared it, take a watch here: My Story They did a wonderful job with it.
While I know I shouldn’t be thinking about my time, but now all I want to do is get back to my sub 2 hour half marathons. I know I can do that. I know I will get there. Now that I have proven to myself I am me again. Running was the last piece of that. I keep thinking I’ll leave all of this behind, but it’s not something that will ever go away. It happened. I went through it. I survived it. But it’s always there. I still stand by my bracelet Cancer is life-altering, but not defining. I just never thought it would still be such a big piece of my life at this point.
To end on a positive note, I think I picked my next half marathon!
Goals and thoughts. So many thoughts. One goal: run and finish my 24th half marathon. (Yes, I went back and counted.)
I have mentally gotten myself to a place where I am okay with the fact that this will be my slowest half ever. It is what it is. I have had a million thoughts of what I should have done, but I didn’t. Getting back to running didn’t come easy to me, at all. In fact it was horribly difficult. This wasn’t a month or two or four off for an orthopedic injury while I was still doing some sort of exercise. This was literally starting from zero. I had no muscle, no strength, nothing. It was a lot harder than I imagined it would be, both physically and mentally.
I ran the Door County Half in 2016 with my running besties (pictured above). It didn’t exactly go to plan, but it turns out I had something like 10lbs of tumors inside of me. So F you body. I still ran a 2 hour half marathon. I was diagnosed 3 months after this race. While I didn’t make it back in 2017 to run, I did go and tailgate a half marathon. You think I joke, I do not. I had the best spectator buddy ever.
What do I expect out of this half marathon? It’s going to be hard. I’m going to struggle, but I will finish. I will probably cry. But most of all I will prove to myself that cancer did not take running from me. I get to do a normal thing. I get to go up to Door County with some good friends, go for a run, eat some kiss ass pizza from Wild Tomato and drink some delicious beer from Door County Brewing Company.
Oh, and get video taped finishing the race. What you say? I have chosen to share my story with my work/treatment facility. They are doing a really nice job putting stories together which you can see at knowledge changing life. They will be interviewing me and my doctors later in May. I have no idea when the video will come out, but don’t worry, I will share it all over the internet. I chose to do this because no one knows what appendix cancer is and people don’t realize what HIPEC surgery is and I’ve gone through an insane 18 months.
So anyone out there who found this blog by searching appendix cancer, know that I am 15.5 months out from HIPEC surgery and I’m running a half marathon. There are dark and scary times, very dark and scary times, but life goes on. I found my post from a year ago when I got my first clean scans and remembered that my doctor told me to live my life. I thought that was going to be harder than it was.
Trust in my body. Trust in my body’s ability to do all kinds of things. This has really been one of the hardest things for me and I think I finally figured it out. I was in one of my favorite yoga classes on Sunday and our instructor told us to choose an intention as she always does. I often choose focus as I tend to have trouble not letting my mind wander during class. On Sunday I chose trust, as in trusting my body. I realized this was holding me back in a lot of aspects: running, yoga, strength work. In two classes of using trust as my intention I have been able to do more and have pushed myself more. I’m sure some of you might roll your eyes at this and that is fine. I used to roll my eyes at yoga too. But then I found Healium Hot Yoga and I never looked back. Awesome studio, awesome instructors, awesome owner. (And no, I’m not getting anything out of posting this.)
My intention of trust and trusting my body goes so far beyond yoga. My body betrayed me. My body betrayed me in such a drastic manor. I was sitting at lunch this past Monday catching up with someone who is now going through cancer treatment and I can’t believe the things that you normalize when talking with someone else who has gone through it: laughing about how awful and itchy wigs are, comparing notes on low white blood counts, laughing about chemo brain. It was strangely cathartic. After lunch a third person said something to me that made me think. She said I never asked why me or at least never did out loud. I guess I didn’t. I didn’t see a reason. That wasn’t going to help anything. The best guess on all of this was a random mutation of my DNA. Aka, my body betrayed me. I do think I stopped trusting my body. I believed in its ability to fight. And fight it did, but these were different things.
I did get back to running last fall and ran a few 5ks, but something in me kept me from really building back up and I didn’t know what it was. I now really think I just didn’t trust my body. I had all kinds of fears that something was going to happen. That all this progress might be for nothing. My body that has carried me through something like 20 half marathons and thousands of miles. My body has fought and beat cancer. I somewhat secretly registered for the Door County Half Marathon in May. I say somewhat as I have been slowly telling people this. I’m finally believing and trusting that I can do this.
One more thing that has really impacted me more than I realized is Gabriele “Gabe” Grunewald, #BraveLikeGabe. If you don’t know who she is, read this piece that Brooks Running posted: Pro runner. Cancer patient. Relentless optimist. Short version: she is a pro-runner fighting a rare cancer. I found out about her sometime in the last year and have been following her all over social media ever since. In addition, she is unbelievably nice. She has responded to me on twitter and instagram in the sweetest ways.
I finally trust my body again and that feels good.
I haven’t been normal sick in a long time. Everything in the last year and a half, probably longer, was cancer related. I successfully avoided getting anything last year by avoiding people and friends being considerate of my compromised immune system. I’ve been terrified of a fever for a year and a half. Even a low grade fever meant I had to go into the doctor. I have no reason to be at this point. I don’t have a compromised immune system anymore. Well, other than no spleen, but I had a bunch of vaccines because of that.
I’ve been sick since about New Year’s Day. The other night I finally had a fever. A fever still scares me. A lot more than I thought it would. It wasn’t high enough I would have had to call the doctor even a year ago, but it still scared me. I know it’s probably a simple virus, maybe the flu, probably a cold, but that doesn’t mean my brain doesn’t go scary places. Thankfully I have my silly nursemaids, that are very good at snuggling and sleeping, to keep me company and don’t judge me for whining a lot and not getting off the couch.
I’ve been laying in the couch miserable for days and all I can think is this is so terrible, but then I think no, it’s not that bad. It’s 1000x better than a year ago. But being sick means something so different now. Somehow a cold isn’t just a cold. Getting sick reminds me of all the awfulness I went through. Maybe it’s because a year ago I was prepping for the mother of all surgeries.
I feel like a year of my life was stolen from me and even though I’ve been living it up over the last six months I think all these one year memories are upsetting me more than I realized. They aren’t good reminders. I mean the one year from my last day of chemo was a nice thing to realize, but now we’re coming up on my surgery and the miserable six months that followed.
I have my one year scans coming up really soon. Maybe one of these days I won’t be counting everything from one year ago.
I’m going to ignore all the bad and the ugly this year. That was my 2016 post. There was too much of that. And you all already know about that and experienced it with me. Instead I’m going to look at the good pieces, the progress. Because I sure as hell couldn’t have imagined most of this a year ago.
I have had three sets of clean scans! My body has no evidence of disease! I actually use the past tense now: I had cancer.
I feel like myself again. I am running and getting stronger in yoga every week. (My SIL, the yoga instructor, told me I looked strong. PS. She’s the best!)
I went to Italy for my niece’s first birthday and go to spend time with my brother and his family.
I went kayaking, hiking, biking and canoeing with friends. I had no idea if and when I was going to be able to do these things.
I attended four Badger home games! (I honestly considered not renewing my tickets last spring in fear that I wouldn’t be able to go to a game again.)
I went to Paris over Thanksgiving and had a truly amazing trip with a great friend. We drank lots of champagne and hung out in the caves at Pommery with 18 million bottles of champagne. Also, why can’t I drink champagne everyday?
I think less and less about the truly horribly parts of this last year.
Friends, family, acquaintances, internet friends, all showed their true colors and let me tell you, there is so much good in this world. I might never be done thanking people for being there for me.
And the fact that I truly never let cancer take over my life.