My journey - battling lymphoma

Recently I celebrated my 46th birthday. I love celebrating birthdays! Then I participated as a co-captain for our local "Quabog" Relay For Life and the Pack 57 Rocks! Cub Scout Team. This was the time frame that I had discovered an uneasiness in my stomach and growth in my spleen and stomach. After weeks of monitoring, my husband Steve took me to the doctor who felt the lumps and ordered a CT scan. The CT scan showed a massive area, my spleen enlarged to twice its size and an additional growth lower in my stomach. Next was the localized CT guided biopsy and subsequent PET scan. The biopsy showed positive for lymphoma and most likely Diffuse Large B-cell Lymphoma.

This is my online journal sharing my experience through battling this cancer that has abruptly entered my life for no apparent reason. The story is documented here if you want to start from the beginning, you can check the archives on the side bar.

As a top competitive master athlete this year winning my age group at the Marine Corps Marathon and placing 3rd in the New England Trail Running Championship I have been truly excited with my results of late and am a truly driven athlete. Driven by goals.... my goal right now.... to beat this "thing"!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

It was only ONE year ago......

Next week will mark my one year anniversary since the end of my chemo treatment.  It was only one year ago that I was in Northampton at Dr. Mullally's office with that chemo dripping in my arm.  I packed up my computers, my books, my iPad, my Nano and Steve drove me to the office.  I had just finished the Chicago marathon a couple weeks prior and I was smiling from that success.  I had printed out a photo of me in the Wonder Woman outfit and Cara as BatGirl - put it in a frame for the Doc.... he has placed it in a prime location right above the chair where I regularly received my chemo.

It was only a year ago - I was bald and wearing my blonde wig trying to fool everyone around me that I bleached my hair and was trying to look young! Or so I remember that lady commenting behind my back... I had no eye brows, no eye lashes, but I had a smile a mile wide because I was so loved by my husband, my family and friends.  I remember all the self portraits I took during that time and am glad I did because I really didn't feel very well.  It was the last week of treatment and I felt like celebrating - although wine didn't taste very good...  so we curled up and went to sleep early most nights.

We took a photo of us with the doc in the office after waking up from my treatment, as it was a norm that I fell asleep near the end and just got cozy with a blanket and pillow in my favorite chair  with the smiling nurses checking on me every once in a while to be sure I was still feeling ok.  :)

My hair is finally growing back to "almost ponytail" length -- and it is a nice brown color with a little curl to it.  Much more curl than I have ever had before.  Although chemo wasn't the end of my "treatment" having my spleen removed at the end of February would really be the official end -- this is a truly monumental time for me.

My recovery from the Chicago marathon --- and then to finish treatment.  That was all that was going on in my mind at the time.  :)  Yay!  HUGE accomplishments!

Fast forward to today.... in 4 days I toe the line for my 24th marathon in New York City.  I have never run the NYC marathon before and it will be quite the amazing adventure!  Ramon from DNation asked me to speak for the Friday night dinner so we are headed down on Friday.  Then staying with our friend Tabi who we know from Mount Snow.  It is supposed to be 50's and tail wind -- yahoo!

Info for NYC - Bib
Blue Wave#1 Corral#11 11/6/2011 9:40:00 AM 

Drum roll please!!!!  My total amount raised for DetermiNation is $1550 for this event and I am so thankful to all my donors!  I had 2 friends that gave $200 plus and the last donation was 206.50 to put me right at the $1500 mark.  My grand total for all 6 DetermiNation events I have raised money to support the American Cancer Society is $9283.80 !  Yay!  Today was the day that the group of INGNYC DNation runners reached the $1 million dollar mark!  An incredible feat of passion in the fight against cancer -- raising money so there will be less cancer and more birthdays!   Coming from a girl who LOVES her birthday --- celebrating life -- this means so much to me!  So excited to meet all the other runners when we get down there on Friday.

Tapering has been crazy this week with the freak snow storm that came to town.  2 feet of heavy wet snow that has destroyed trees, falling down on wires, cables and into the roads in our area.  We have been without power for 3 days--- no water for showers that is readily available (we only run the generator for small periods of time to keep the food from spoiling).  So I haven't been running much -- got to get out more in the end of the week if life gets back to normal at all.  This storm has truly brought our neighborhood together -- looking out for one another, helping people with clearing trees, and sharing the warmth.  I feel ready for New York -- strong, happy, healthy and thankful.

After all - it is that time of the year we remember to be thankful -- although after having cancer, I am so incredibly thankful ALL YEAR ROUND!
Steve & I celebrating our 4th wedding anniversarynumber and start time:

"Celebrate, Remember, Fight Back!"

It is not too late to donate --- I am working hard to hit that $10,000 mark - so please if you can help support my efforts in the fight against cancer it truly means the world to me...  more than ever.
Nancy's DetermiNation NYC marathon website

Thank you!
Please leave a comment if you stop by!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Vermont 50 miler - It's all about Survival

It was mentioned somewhere in my reading about ultra marathons, that when it gets to these long miles it really isn't about the "racing", it is about survival.   It struck me as amazing that after one year and a few months since diagnosis that I am embarking on a new journey, a 50 mile run / race - that will challenge my soul once again.  

I found this quote today while reading on the web -- it is so appropriate for my state of mind right now:

Some day you won't be able to do this anymore, today is not that day' - Anonymous 

It has been a 'crazy' year and I think back quite often to the challenges that I faced during my diagnosis, treatment and now recovery.    I lumped it all in the same experience and pushed myself to run Chicago, then Boston, now this 50 miler on the Vermont trails and mountains.... It was all blurred together, recovery from each treatment, building up my white blood cells to get slammed again.  I remember it all too well in fact.  I refused to sit down, I ran, I trained - set my goals - completed those 2 marathons with a HUGE smile on my face.  And now am so proud to look back and see what I accomplished. :)  

DetermiNation is a big word in my vocabulary these days.  I am proud to be a runner.   I am proud to be running faster than ever.  I have some marathon milestones accomplished through some big challenges to share... I am reminded of all of this in prep for the VT50 and looking back at the 26 marathons I have completed. 

2002 - Boston Marathon 6 months post partum.  Schuyler was born on 10/10/01 by way of C-section.  Losing that baby fat, healing from the C Section --- all quite challenging indeed. In addition living in New Hampshire at the time it was tough to get out there training in the winter months for an April marathon.  I had waived my entry (back when it was allowed to waive) - because of my pregnancy.  It was a "slow" Boston for me (4;20) -- but I finished and ran right to my baby boy.  Very cool indeed.  

2007 - Boston Marathon during my D time... the divorce years were tough (so worth it once I found the man of my dreams!) and I focused on my running early, late and whenever I needed a break.  It was the determination of an athlete to get through the tough times in your life.  The best thing about my 2007 race was my result surprised me --- I flew!  3:05 was the time.... I was 7th master in the year that they were going to cancel for a Noreaster that was predicted.  Wow.

2010 - Chicago Marathon - There were plenty of "nay-sayers" that were in disbelief when I told them I would run Chicago after being diagnosed with stage 4 diffuse large B cell lymphoma.  I was a runner.  It was how I managed stress, life balance, self confidence and more.  It was a part of my healing ---- to run --- every day if I could (which I couldn't during treatment week) and I did take plenty of days off.  But I stuck to my goal of running that marathon, figured I would walk if I had to.... supported by SO many people.  My friend Cara running beside me as BatGirl - introducing me as Wonder Woman to all as we ran - sharing my story of survival -- 2/3 of the way through chemotherapy.  Tingly feet & hands, a little sick to my stomach (love my ginger people!) - but I did it.  3:57 (a BQ for me!) was our finish time. Yay!

2011 Boston Marathon - It's not over until it is OVER .... so the docs thought they found more cancer and said that the best thing to do is to remove my spleen.  But .... I was signed up and running Boston... raising money for the 5th DetermiNation campaign in less than 3 years, and darn it!  Stupid cancer was not going to foil my plans again.  I built up my miles previous to the surgery - knowing I would need some time off... so I piled on those miles (55 plus for 3 weeks) - and then surgery --- and then Boston bound!  My Dream Team was there -- my hair was coming back ---- I finished that marathon in 3:30:27 (29 min faster than my BQ time).  

So today here I am ready to run a 50 miler.  Ready to pour it on in the mud, trails, hills and back woods of Vermont.  The early start --- maybe a 10 hour day?  Maybe a 9 hour day?  Maybe faster?  I just know that I am built to survive -- I am determined!  11 days and counting....  VT50 here I come!  It is all about survival and I am a SURVIVOR! :)  

You can see what I have accomplished in the past --- I think I am ready!  What do you think?  Please leave a comment below! :)  Thanks for stopping in!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Yes I am a DetermiNator!

Recently I was asked to write about why I run and raise money for the American Cancer Society through the DetermiNation program.  As a crazy Relayer (a person dedicated to Relay For Life through work & volunteerism) --- my work with the ACS has me promoting the Relay experience on a daily basis - and yes I do bleed "purple" and drink the Kool Aid quite often.  It is "cult-like" to be in the Relay Family and it feels real good to meet others all over the world that are passionate about making a difference by raising the much needed funds to fight cancer, walking around the track, celebrating survivors, caregivers and the memory of those we may have lost.  Through my experiences at Relay and building this passion and it was about time that I share my passion of running with my passion for fighting cancer.  I knew about the Charity Runner program, and looked forward to seeing what I could accomplish by dedicating my marathons to a cause & organization that I believe in.

The American Cancer Society Charity Runner program began in Illinois and my friend / colleague Ann has spearheaded the efforts of promotion and building up the nationwide support of this avenue for raising funds to fight cancer through ACS.   I admire her energy and leadership to bring this forward to more events across the country.  It has been amazing to watch it grow!  Now with the name DetermiNation it truly hits home to the endurance runners everywhere that are out there DETERMINED to find a cure!  Look out --- ACS has now signed up one Determined lady! 

Because I am a crazy runner --- 4 Ironman triathlons and more than 20 marathons under my belt -- I had some great marathon finishes behind me before I transformed into a DetermiNator. :)

So you ask Why DetermiNation?
I love to run. 
I love to compete. 
I love setting goals and SMASHING them to pieces!  
I love marathons --- ok it can be quite draining and sometimes agonizing to have to dig so deep to push yourself for 26.2 miles, but the amazing endorphins you build up to carry you (AKA: Runner High) to the finish and the pride of wearing that finisher medal compares to nothing else.  
I love medals.  I love to win.  I love feeling like a crazy runner - when people don't understand you because you just can't stop running, training and sign up for yet another marathon.  

I love to make a difference.  I love to show others that being a strong athlete can also be a platform for advocating for better healthcare, better treatments, more research and tools for making a better quality of life for anyone who faces this disease.  

So after my 3rd DetermiNation marathon which happened to be Boston, I had signed up to do Chicago, again as a DetermiNator --- and was diagnosed with diffuse Large B Cell lymphoma.  And for some crazy reason - it just made me want to run more, show everyone that cancer would NOT beat me.  No way.... and on top of that I am going to bring more attention to the fact that I am fighting cancer, not only in my chemo treatments, but out there training for the Chicago marathon and raising the funds for the American Cancer Society.  It feels even more powerful to train as a cancer survivor - to show others the strength and determination it takes to be in the best shape and hit all my goals!  

Sharing the entire history below -- links to each story on my blog with each experience if you really want a good read.... :)

My first ACS DetermiNation event was VT City in Burlington Vermont - May 2009
Raised - $1340
3:19:59 - 216th overall place of 2119 competitors
21st woman - 4th in age

My second ACS DetermiNation event was Marine Corps Marathon in DC - November 2009
Newspaper article in the Republican about me in the MCM
Raised $1100
1st place in age - Master Woman

My third ACS DetermiNation event was the Boston Marathon - April 2010
Raised $1560

3:23:17- 7.46 min/mile
5291 overall - 712 woman - Overall- 41th master!  

My fourth ACS DetermiNation event was the Chicago Marathon - October 2010
Raised $1800
3:57;58 - 7807 overall of 36,088- 1974 woman of 16,142 and I was 135 in age
*NOTE - I was 2/3 of the way through my chemo treatments on 10/10/10

My fifth ACS DetermiNation event was the Boston Marathon - April 2011
Raised $1933.80
3:30:27 (8:02 min/mile) - 7816 overall of , 1445 woman of 10,074, 101 in age group out of 1597 in 45-49 age
*NOTE:  This marathon was 6 weeks after the removal of my spleen in order for a biopsy to be done in case of more cancer.
More Boston statistics 

My sixth ACS DetermiNation event will be the ing New York City Marathon - November 2011
Goal:  $1500  Currently raised: $852

Total (in less than 3 years!) = $8587.80  

Hope to hit the $10,000 mark soon!  PLEASE help me spread the word we can fight this disease!  Here is the link to my donation page for the ing NYCM with more of my story. 

 You can help me make my goal and you can make a difference too.  Thank you so much for reading my story of strength and DetermiNation.  As long as I am running marathons I will be a part of this DetermiNator team!

My Fundraising Tips?

1. Ask - if you don't ask they can't give
2. No could mean - not now - don't be afraid to ask again
3. Thank everyone that gives immediately - amazing the repeat donors when you treat them right!
4. Thank people publicly so others see it and may want to donate too!
5. Keep it up front and visible with the link everywhere so people know where to go to make a donation. 
6. Share your story - keep it real
7. Thank people even when they say no.
8. Communicate to everyone and keep them engaged in your training, your campaign to raise funds and to be connected to the efforts all around
9. Ask again! - count down your days till the big race and include how much money you have raised and how much to get to your goal.
10.  Celebrate with everyone that you touch through your outreach -- your completing the marathon or endurance event is something that they want to hear about and feel a special part of - so don't forget to share your results!

Above photo is of me at the Big Fourth in Springfield MA on July 4, 2011 -- I was 3rd woman overall and ran a PR 5K with a 19:56.  6:20 minutes per mile.  Very proud of myself that day! :)

Until we find a cure.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Almost Heaven

We had such an amazing vacation at Mt Hood last week.  10 glorious days of cool Oregon weather.  Waking up early to catch the chair at 7 am - the lifts close at 1 pm because it gets so warm.  It is a ski racing meca.  They salt the slopes each morning and hope that the clouds (fog) doesn't settle in because it limits visibility so much you can't ski.  We were "fogged" out on Tuesday.  One day off to visit the wineries and waterfalls in the region on Monday.  This is the first of my sharing of my fave photos from our trip.  

The mountain in the distance you can see directly from the "Magnificent Mile" (the mile long chair ride to the top of Mt Hood) is Mt Jefferson.  My zoom allowed me to get these amazing shots all week!  

The name of this one is "Almost Heaven".  I entered it in the MoreBirthdays art contest with the inspiration  of guiding cancer patients through every step of their journey.  It was 1 year ago today that I was diagnosed with cancer.  It was the beginning of July and we had reservations to go and participate in the Peak Performance Ski Racing Camp at Mt Hood.  We had to cancel those plans because of the fast growing cancer inside of me.  It was quite the journey - as this blog has shared my steps along the way.  The programs and guidance of the American Cancer Society kept me informed, helped me to advocate for my care, educated me whenever I had questions and bottom line made for the best experience that I could have in treatment of my cancer.   This and the all the people that were there for me whenever I needed them, the gifts, the cards, the love that I felt from all my family, friends and colleagues.   

Almost heaven --- after making it through CAT scans, PET scans, blood tests (they all sound small but are all so stressful - not knowing what is in store).  4 months of chemotherapy, needles, drugs, nausea, exhaustion, weight loss, losing my hair, my eyebrows, and feeling like total crap.  Wigs and my favorite pirate cap are some of my fun memories.  Speaking on stage about my journey to inspire others.... running.... racing... kicking it in whenever I could ..... running 2 marathons (and pretty fast if I say so myself!) --- the second one sans my spleen.  It all seems like a crazy dream right now with my curly brown hair coming in (not gray - yay!) and running a 19:56 5K to win 3rd place and a pair of sneakers at a local race in Springfield, MA.  

Then to finally make it to the top of that mountain - Mt. Hood.  To race GS, to ski the glacier with my family, to get through those slalom gates without getting smacked in the face and actually look pretty good! :)  This is another step in my journey to share the sweet feeling of the view from where I stand.  The glorious mountains of Oregon.  I am so happy to share these photos with you.   More than you can imagine......

Live each day
Look to the horizon 
See it 
and Feel 
Almost Heaven

View of Mt Jefferson from the top of Mt Hood

Sweet Shot Day

Please leave a comment if you stop by!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Quabog Relay For Life - Honorary Chair - Survivor Speaker - MY NOTES

 I am honored to be the Honorary Chair of the American Cancer Society Relay For Life of Quabog Valley in Belchertown, MA.  Here are my notes for my speech from last night.  :)

Relay is about a community that takes up the fight - the fight against cancer.  
This is my community - and I want to thank you all for being here and taking up the fight, the fight against this terrible disease that affects so many and raising the dollars for the advancements in cancer research that make the treatments possible for so many like me to survive cancer.   

I have been fighting for this disease as staff for the American Cancer Society for more than 15 years, but never knew what all this really meant until last year --- it was at this Relay --- I was taking photos of the teams, the survivor lap, the smiling faces of all of you walking the track -- fighting cancer in our community.  

Then that next week that in Dr. Levheim's office just around the corner from here ---  she told us that it looks like I have cancer.  I was hearing those words "YOU HAVE CANCER".  We left the office armed with appointments, doctor recommendations, insurance follow up, and onward, fighting like so many stories I had heard from cancer survivors at Relay.  It was scary, no fun at all to say the least.  After going to Mass General for a specialist opinion and Cooley Dickinson for my PET scan we had a diagnosis and a plan.  We were going to fight this thing - stage 4 diffuse large B cell lymphoma - and the prognosis was good.  4 months of chemo, 3 trips to Boston - a nasty treatment of methatrexate….. Lost my hair, decided to go blonde, endured the drugs, the side effects making the most out of each and every day…. .    The PET scan in November showed something more and the docs said the best route was to remove my spleen.  If I don't need it - take it!   The whole thing really did slow me down mind you…. But I still ran the Chicago marathon in October (2/3 through treatment) and then Boston (6 weeks after spleen removal)…  looking back it sounds like a whirl wind!  My friends called me Wonder Woman and I have the photos of me in costume!

“No one can hold you back from doing all the things you want to do.  Just keep your goals in sight, listen to your body and take one day at a time.  Some days will be better than others, but every day is a blessing. - so make each day the best it can be. " 
Now - it hasn't been a year yet, but no cancer is showing on my latest scans
Time to celebrate life - I am here to celebrate with all of you...
Celebrate with my caregivers - my amazing sweet husband, my fun loving active 10 year old son, riding motorcycles with our son Stephen & Samantha now living in Boston
It IS all about HOPE... and once you have HOPE 
you can share HOPE and if you inspire others, they can in turn inspire you." 

Let's Relay!  

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Mass Appeal - TV segment

I was recently asked to appear on Channel 22 Mass Appeal, a daytime show that highlights human interest stories and events.  We were promoting Relay For Life upcoming events for Hampshire County and Quabog Region.  I met Madelyn, who is the co-chair of the Northampton event in the waiting area.  It was pretty interesting meeting the highlighted events, promotions and watching the 3 stages set up as the cameras moved from one area to the other while the co-hosts bounced between stages.

Seth Stutman was our host that would be interviewing us and Ashley was the other host that was doing other pieces.  They were a cute pair -- funny, energetic and happy!  :)  Seth was hilarious and had a great sense of humor.  We played right along.  Soon it was our time to get in the couches and miked up near the end of the show.  Below I share the link / imbed the video for you to see.  I think it went well, and I look pretty good (my hair is getting longer - yay!)  Check it out!

Relay for Life in Western Mass:

A photo from the set where they were showing recipes raising money for Girl Scouts "Fork it Over"

 A great photo of Madelyn and I at the station :)

Friday, May 20, 2011

Castleton State College Magazine- Wonder Woman highlight!

Last spring I communicated with my alma mater Castleton State College on my recent challenge with my upcoming Boston marathon after my lymphoma diagnosis.  I sent them the same interview info I shared with the ACS and then to my surprise this week a friend alerted me to this amazing article featuring my story.  A wonderful piece that I am so thankful to share with all of you.  Brought tears to my eyes reading it and just feeling the support of so many of you all over and thankful for my family and friends once again!

Friday, May 13, 2011

"HOPE" for Relay For Life Fight Back Ceremony

I wrote this for a Relay that I could not appear in person.  They asked me to write my story in order to present it at their "Fight Back" Ceremony.  I wrote it in 3rd person.  Hope you like it.     :) Please leave a message if you stop by! 


It IS all about HOPE... and once you have HOPE 
you can share HOPE and if you inspire others, they can in turn inspire you."

  These words are from a woman in Western Mass, a woman that I heard speak last fall when she was in the middle of treatment for Stage 4 diffuse large Bcell lymphoma.  Her words rang loud and clear for all of us in the room at this special Relay For Life Summit. 
She shared her experience of hearing those words… “you have cancer” She shared the experience of her treatment, her fantastic doctors & nurses She shared how she finds strength, in people like you and me, people that Relay, people that care enough to fight back against cancer and support the mission of the American Cancer Society.   

We support our cancer survivors in our community.
This woman, Nancy, in the fall she ran the Chicago marathon 2/3 of the way through treatment in a Wonder Woman costume with a time of 3:57.  That was amazing!  But was more amazing is the inspiration she has given to others that are surviving cancer, caregivers to those survivors and to all those that may hear those words… “you have cancer”  Then after the possibility of more cancer they removed her spleen at the end of February.  She ran the Boston Marathon 6 weeks after that surgery this past April.  The results were negative.  They didn’t find cancer in her spleen.  What a crazy year enduring what she likes to call “The Toughest Marathon of My Life” Look the beast in the eye.  Focus on what makes you strong.  Endure.   Her word rang out again…

“No one can hold you back from doing all the things you want to do.  Just keep your goals in sight, listen to your body and take one day at a time.  Some days will be better than others, but every day is a blessing. - so make each day the best it can be. "

Today & tomorrow we are Sharing hope.  Feeling hope.  Spreading hope.   When you Relay you are in a field of hope.  

What do you hope for?  
 Quality of life?  
Better treatments?  A cure for cancer? Look around.  That is what we all hope for at Relay. 

We celebrate life. 
We remember those we have lost 
We fight back to find a cure. 
Creating a world with less cancer and more birthdays. Thank you for being here, for making a difference in the fight against cancer, for making this day and every day the best it can be. 

Are you ready? 
Let’s Relay!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Boston Marathon Results!

Here it is...  the final results and to share with you the thank you note I sent to my donors... what a great marathon, a great focus for me during this crazy time in my life.  
Note:  On that Tuesday following the marathon on 4/19 there was an All Staff Briefing where they shared my "update" with the ACS staff nationwide.  I was honored as they share my story as inspiration and to show my Wonder Woman photo on screen and on the webcast.  I was in the air traveling to Salt Lake City for our annual family vacation at Snowbird and not able to see it live, but my friends shared the moment and the virtual cheers from across the country -- how cool is that!

My thank you note:

Thank you to all the ACS DetermiNation volunteers and staff too!  

This truly was my best experience for DNation!  I consider myself an "expert"!  :) 
The Dream Team was truly amazing with their participation and results!  
I had to share my results and experience in photos as it is truly a celebration of life for me to have these results after only 6 weeks after having my spleen removed and 5 months since my last chemo treatment.  :)  

"Focus on what makes you happy and strong, no matter what, live it, breathe on and you too will go beyond being a survivor!"
- Nancy E Cook

My Boston Marathon Results! 
(I looked these up for my thank you notes and had to share with all of you!) THANK YOU for your support of me during these past months of trials and tribulations! :)

9162 Cook, Nancy E 46 F Belchertown MA USA 
5k = 0:21:17
10k = 0:43:18
Half = 1:35:00
Overall pace = 0:08:02
Finish Time Official. = 3:30:27

98% finished that started the race - below is based on finishers 
Time Overall = 7797 out of 24338 = Top 32% of all finishers
Gender - 1447 = 10281 = Top 14% of all women
Division = 101 = 1611 = Top 6% in age 45-49
Top woman finisher in my age group was 2:51:02 and number 10 was 3:12:40
Definitely do-able times in my book for the future! :)

ACS DetermiNation
Boston is my #5 DetermiNation effort in less than 3 years !!
I raised $1933.80 for the American Cancer Society through the Boston Marathon effort and the amazing support of all my donors !!
The Dream Team (6 truly incredible athletes) raised $18,893.80 !!
19 marathon runners supported ACS DetermiNation at the Boston Marathon and raised $47,614.50 !!

Time for a new goals! :)
So incredibly happy with my results and the truly amazing efforts in the fight against cancer !!

What's next? Vermont 50 miler in October and NYC Marathon in November and what ever else comes before that! 

Life is good. :)

Monday, April 11, 2011

7 days till the Boston Marathon ..... "My Story"

My Story

I was recently asked to share my story - 

My story is one of will, dedication, committment, years of training and racing.    Accumulating what seems like millions of hours of time that I have put in preparation.... and now another marathon - another day at the start line of a race, this time the Boston Marathon - the grand daddy of them all! 13 days from today  - bib 9162, wave 2, corral 1 - standing, stretching, anticipating that start gun, with more than 20,000 runners headed from Hopkinton to Boston!  This will be my 6th Boston and my 27th marathon.  

It doesn't always come easy, getting out of bed each morning, but I am motivated by my loving husband, Steve who encourages me to get myself going and catch those ponytails! That plus my rambunctious "full of energy" son cheer me on at each race and give "me" the training time to put myself to work - to increase my mileage, speed or endurance as a whole.  I am so proud that I can perform at the higher levels like I have proven in the recent past - with a seventh place master finish in 2007 with a 3:05 at Boston and then 7th master again in San Fransisco at the 2007 Nike Woman's marathon  and then winning my age group at the Marine Corps Marathon in 2009. I qualified in 2008, at age 43 for the World Championship 1/2 ironman and the US National Championships for the Olympic distance - - on my own raw talent, because anyone that really knows me, knows I am of the "less is more theory" with all I have to juggle in life. I am self coached by "Greta Gamin" , my Ipod nano, and my training buddy, yellow lab Oakley. I research training plans online, communicate online with other runners and just get up and put my feet on the pavement each and every morning.  

It hit me like a ton of bricks last July when I was diagnosed with Diffuse Large B Cell lymphoma that running was my focus to keep my sights forward and always moving ahead.  I had signed up for the Chicago Marathon, and with God's will I would have the strength to endure chemo, endure training and complete the marathon.  It was a challenge I put before me and as a goal oriented person I knew I would do it.  Many may have doubted that I could do it, but when I was finally out there with tingly feet & hands, as hydrated as possible, with the goal to finish ---- it happened.  I crossed the line with all that support behind me from friends, family, colleagues.  My husband was there for me every step of the way, and my friend Cara dressed as BatGirl to support me in the marathon each mile while I wore my Wonder Woman outfit.   Feeling like Wonder Woman we crossed the line with a 3:57.  

My last chemotherapy treatment was in November.  Now I had my sights on Boston, recruiting the Dream Team to join me on the line again and adding a couple more to the team we were perched for success!  But they found something in my spleen and weren't sure that maybe the cancer was still growing inside of me.  On February 28 they removed my spleen to biopsy it and determine if more chemo was needed.  I waited a week and 3 days for the results, but got the call that there was no cancer in the spleen and I was "good to go"!  It was another challenge coming back from major surgery in such a short time frame before Boston.  The pain was tough to bear, even riding in a car at first, but I slowly moved beyond the pain and recovered enough to run and get some additional training in before the big day.   

Now, with only 7 days till the Dream Team meets me in Boston to rally that route from Hopkinton to Boston chills go up my spine thinking about what a year it has been for me.  The challenges before me have made me focus even more on that end result.  I hope to inspire others to focus on the goals, all the good feelings, the ups and not the downs.  I hope to share with others that you need to be as strong as you can be to get through the tough times and grow closer to that "pie in the sky" goal that you may set for yourself.  Live each day!  I have to end with my favorite quote from my "journey'

"Just remember that no one can hold you back from doing all the things you want to do.  Keep you goals in sight, take one day at a time, some days will be better than others, but every day is a blessing -so make each day the best it can be." 
  - Nancy E Cook, marathoner, cancer survivor, mother, wife & more!

The Dream Team is now less than $300 from our $15,000 goal!  Thank you to Cara, Charlie, DPittman, Matt and Jill all your amazing work!  

Photo:  My new "ride" for Boston --- a little Relay Purple in these Nike Lunar Glides -- LOVE em! :)

Friday, March 11, 2011

I am here.

I got the call.
Dr. Barnes called on Tuesday & gave us the good news and there is NO cancer in my spleen.  It was the best news we had heard all year.  It took them a whole week to slice and dice the thing, but it turned up negative.  Even better news is that it will be a close follow up of CAT scans & blood work for 2 years.  I feel like I have hit another milestone in this journey.  Survivorship.

I am here.

This latest experience has me reflecting on my past - working with the American Cancer Society - and the amazing volunteers that were "cancer survivors" to now truly discovering what it means to be a "survivor".  

I remember specifically in my early years working as an Area Director for 5 counties in the state of New Hampshire.  I called it the "West".  :)  5 powerful small counties with so much potential.  I replaced this staffer (I think her name was Kate) that the volunteers held in high regard and respect.  They were tough shoes to fill.  So there I was in my early 20's... working with professional volunteers to support the mission of the American Cancer Society.  It was the Gail As & the Bob M's  & the sweet Suki's that I "cut my teeth" on to develop my skills in working with volunteers to support the mission of the ACS and it is those early experiences working in the "field" that I remember the most .

Gail A. was a strong woman in the Peterborough area.  I remember her not wanting to be called a "survivor" because it was truly something personal to her.  She didn't want to be "jinxed" by the label.  I can see how she feels now that I have had cancer.  It is a beast.  Fast forward to the Chicago Marathon - Kristin McQueen, cancer survivor & marathoner & IRONWOMAN says it best - "Suck it cancer!"  She tapes those words on the back of her race shirt where ever she goes (raising more than $10K each year for ACS DetermiNation)..... It's true - it may be chasing you your whole life.  Now that I have had cancer I realize there is nothing that ever says you are done.   So many I have known have been "hit hard" multiple times.   Mary Beth Redell from American Airlines - who we lost this past year to her final battle with colon cancer - is an amazing strong example.  Others like sweet Suki from Peterborough would be the volunteers that lead that tiny town into making tens of thousands of dollars at Making Strides Against Breast Cancer.  Her passion along with the passion of Betty Borry I got to know as the staff person at the Breast Cancer Survivor Adventure Weekend back in the mid 90's- where myself and cancer survivors (all ages and all stages) were given the opportunity to get away for the weekend and work through a ropes course, writing, kayaking and reflecting.  It was an amazing experience for me I will never forget. Hearing about what it meant for each of those women to be surviving cancer face to face in that setting was one of the most inspiring things I have done in my life.  

 I remember in July when I was first diagnosed.  I was scared, but decided to look the beast in the eye.  I laughed as I told my friend Judy I couldn't wait to wear that purple tshirt, the sash and walk that lap!  Being a survivor is a celebration.  A celebration of life.  My life, the lives of others who have faced the beast and lived another day.  More birthdays - for more survivors - a mission you can relate to especially if you are someone like me who just loves their birthday!  But this second time that I thought it could be more cancer, that scared me - I couldn't write about it. I had had enough.  I had finished my chemo treatments, I fought hard, lost my hair, eyelashes & eyebrows, felt like crap, exhausted & beat up.  My hair was just barely starting to come back so I didn't have to wear that crazy blonde wig.  I kept my positive outlook, kept running to stay strong (mentally & physically)... to now hear this news of "Sorry we 'saw something' in your PET scan".  EEK.  Spleen removal?  Major surgery?  Whatever it takes is all that I could think or say.  We had the best docs taking care of me and we put all our trust in them.  Now, with the results in hand - no cancer - it is time to go back to living a normal life - wow - but I will never be "normal" after this experience.  

I am here. 

This was on the back of the Relay For Life Tshirt in Boulder Colorado when I moved out west (the REAL west).  :)  Kristin Sheldon was an artist I met on Pearl Street.  On the weekends it was always a fair, vendors with their "carts" - and I loved her cards!  I introduced myself to her that day and by chance it was the 1 year anniversary of a dear friend of hers that she lost to breast cancer.  A true calling - me asking her to design a card & a bookmark to give to luminaria donors and the words in her font on the back of the survivor tshirt.  The words meant so much to me at that time, but mean so much more to me now.  I am here - PERIOD.  I am here to do what it takes to share, to inspire, to encourage and to care about making a difference - a REAL difference.  I don't quite yet know what that means yet.  But I know there is more to come for me.  I am alive due to the research and where we are with cancer treatments right now, because of amazing organizations like the American Cancer Society.  I am here to do what it takes.

There are so many cancer survivors - so many stories of strength.  I want to share my story to give others strength, but it isn't really about my story, I want to hear everyone else's story, it is a collection of all of the stories out there - because in every story there is inspiration, hope and a celebration of a life.

Be strong.  Stay strong.  Celebrate every day, because each day is a blessing.    

 I would like to share this card that Kristin developed for us at the American Cancer Society. 
"With a trail of light, there is no night" 

We celebrate the lives of the cancer survivors by honoring them at the Relay For Life luminaria ceremonies and paying tribute to the memories of those we have lost to cancer - "the beast"....  we light a trail of luminaries to celebrate those lives.  Remember at your Relay this year to celebrate those you love, those you care about and those in your community that bring strength to our world.  

I am truly blessed to have such an amazing support system.... my family, my friends, my colleagues at the American Cancer Society - my doctors, Dr. Sean Mullally and Dr. Jeffery Barnes.  ALL of the nurses and people that have smiled when I needed a smile, prayed when I needed strength & sent their love when I needed a boost!  

Thanks for reading, stopping by - please leave a comment - I love to hear from everyone. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Bye bye Spleen! RIP!

If you don't need it - get rid of it!  If there may be cancer in there - just take it!

The weekend before the "knife" was a lot of fun at Mount Snow skiing with my "girls" for the last time this season and then out on the hill until last chair with Steve after skiing with the group.  The skiing has been so amazing this winter!  We have enjoyed every moment possible on the hill....  The Stratton race was the next day, we drove home knowing it would be more comfortable sleeping in our own bed before heading out in the morning.  Schuyler stayed with the Feliciano's, who truly have become such great friends of ours this season.  Sunday, Schuyler raced, Steve coached and I took photos of all the racers...  I love the energy of the kids on the course and so proud of Schuyler & his friends as they ski by... my photography has been such a great focus for me during my "cancer" and I feel I have taken it to a new level.  It is always great to focus on something you are passionate about when shit is hitting the fan.  :)  Just kidding.  But just like my marathons, I have been spending time training, or sorting through thousands of ski photos to take my mind off what "may be".  I have such an incredible support system on the mountain... all the parents in the ski club, all the coaches at Devo & Comp and of course my incredible family.

After the Stratton race we were headed straight home after a little Schuyler search to find him at the ceremony....  Once home we got Schuyler ready to spend the next few nights with our amazing friends/neighbors the Courchesne's.

Our trip to Boston in the morning on the Pike for almost 2 hours put us at the Wang Building of Mass General a few minutes late, we signed in and within 15 minutes "Nancy Cook" was called to the changing area.  I felt like I was in the army with these big plastic bags for my clothes and shoes.  I gave all my "valuables" to Steve - changed in the room and joined him back in the waiting room with my johnny & robe.  Pretty funny when everyone else was in street clothes.... even for that moment, just a bizarre feeling. They called my name again and I was brought to a gurney / spot in the waiting area - met the first of what seemed like 1000 nurses of the day.   This nurse took my vitals and initial bloodwork (they always seem to remark how low my vitals are - 110/50 BP & 50 pulse - all that running is good for a reaction I guess! ;)  She and many of the others seemed to be reading my file of how I ran the Chicago marathon while in treatment and just looked at me in disbelief and in awe at the same time.  I sort of felt like a "star". Steve was finally able to join me for a few minutes (it seemed like only a moment) and they whisked me away down the hall.  Pretty funny how all the orderlies know each other as you move around this HUGE hospital - they smile and are just so sweet.  

They found me a spot in the hall - and the anesthesiologist, a short woman with a huge smile and friendly manner began my "interview" - She promised they weren't going to do the surgery in the hall and showed me the room.  I then met a few more nurses and "team" that would be taking care of me.  Mass General is a teaching hospital and there are many people that again were reading my chart and making me smile with their comments about my running.  :)  (I like that).  :)   My surgery was scheduled for 7:45 am and we were on time.

Funny part is that is all I remember now that I am writing this.... I remember seeing Dr. Yoon wandering in the hall and he shook my hand, said hi and .... well it seems to be a blur.  The drugs were real good because honestly I don't remember anything until I woke up and saw Steve there with me in the recovery area.  I remember that we didn't get to a room until around 5ish that day.  Long day!  I remember my friend Robin Popp came to visit :)  It was great to see her, but I felt so out of it.  Steve was so patient, I guess he just had a long wait for me the entire day.  They said the surgery was a complete success, the initial findings did not indicate any cancer, but the spleen is so big it would take days to biopsy it.  

Finally in the room I was regaining my sense, although in quite a bit of pain from the surgery.  They had tried different pain killers, some that made me nauseous.... my throat was really sore and it was just exhausting.  Steve had his computer out and was right there by my side.  Such a lucky girl.

The lady next to me had her husband or friend there and it was around 9 pm that they wanted to kick them out because of visiting hours.  We had hoped that we could talk them in to letting Steve stay because I was so nervous and anxious, but I didn't have the energy to fight with the nurses.  :(  So he made the trip home that night.  I slept a little, only to be awaken it seemed every couple hours because my roomie and I were on separate times for vitals.  Steve came back first thing in the morning and the plan was to get me home that day...  I desperately wanted to be home in my own bed and getting some sleep so I could heel. :)

Dr. Barnes stopped for a visit during the day - remarked that I looked great, the surgery went well and again no initial signs of cancer.  They had biopsied one "slice" - but needed until Friday or Monday for the results.  To have my spleen removed was the least invasive of all the options.... I just prayed that we would not find more cancer.  Dr. Yoon stopped by too.  He was happy with the surgery results, meaning no complications.  He was a little wary about me going home so soon, but knew that was my goal and made it clear that I had to have enough strength but it was possible.

The last of the 1000 nurses and "team" working on my care was Kristin (sp) and she was awesome.  The goal was to get the catheter out and to be able to walk to the bathroom and back.   Give me a goal - I am there!  She found me sitting up on the window cil ready to go - and she checked me out.  It was 3 pm and we were bound to beat the Pike traffic that afternoon.  

The ride home was really tough.  Bumps were awful and I braced myself for the potholes on the side roads after getting off the Pike.  It was pretty painful.  Once home I could rest.   Recovery this week has been slower than I really wanted it to be, up until yesterday the bumps were just excruciating to my stomach.  Schuyler went to the mountain but we stayed home where Steve did some major driveway repair from the rain, mud and flooding.  

I am so blessed and thankful for all my family and friends.  Flowers, chocolate, cards, books and the coolest of packages to cheer me up have been flowing to the house.  Thank you all so much!