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"!

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Dailymiler of the week: Nancy E

Guess who is dailymiler of the week! ME! 

dailymiler of the week: Nancy E.

Every week we pick one inspiring dailymiler to be featured on the blog. This gives you a chance to learn the stories of members of the dailymile community. Check out past dailymiler’s of the week. Do you know someone that would be a great dailymiler?Nominate them!
“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.”

Those words of wisdom, put together on a run one day, have empowered Nancy E. Cook, our dailymiler of the week, through the tough times she has faced as she’s dealt with lymphoma these past two years. As she was beginning chemo therapy, she was planning to run the Chicago Marathon. The race was to be roughly two-thirds of the way through her treatments. A lot of people told her running through treatment was impossible. Nancy ignored the naysayers and continued training, listening to her body and pushing herself as much as she could. As the chemo treatments continued she got weaker and weaker, but she was determined to complete her goal.

“When I was in chemo,” she said, “I had bad days (usually three) and then slowly I’d regained my energy.”

Despite her difficult situation, Nancy made it to Chicago and ran a respectable 3:57 with her friend Cara. “I was in a Wonder Woman costume,” she reported. Cara was dressed as Batgirl.

Nancy was an accomplished athlete before cancer struck. She competed in her first triathlon in 1984. She went to the Olympic Distance Nationals twice and qualified for the World Championships for the 1/2 ironman once. She has competed in four Ironman triathlons. Her PR is 11 hours. “I kept trying to qualify for Hawaii,” she said, “but kept missing it by ‘one’ slot.”

She ran her first marathon in 1989. She finished 7th master in Boston in 2007 with a 3:05:5. Two years later, she was first master at the 2009 Marine Corps Marathon. She finished third in the New England Mountain running championships. She also ranked in the sport category in New England mountain bike racing and competed in cyclocross when in Colorado.

Just after Nancy finished her cancer treatments at the end of 2010, she had a bit of a setback. Her doctors thought they’d found more cancer in her spleen so they removed it. The biopsy taken after surgery came back negative. She was cancer-free. She has undergone blood tests every four months to check for more cancer, but so far has remained in remission. She will continue testing for two years. Her oncologists say the chances that the lymphoma won’t come back are good at that point.

Is she afraid of a relapse? “I worry when my stomach feels weird and my runs aren’t up to par,” she said. Even so, she continues to live life, to tell her story and to run. “I run because many cannot even get themselves out of bed in the morning. It is for all those that are suffering from this disease that I continue to fight as hard as I can.”

She’s had ample opportunity to share her story. She has spoken on stage many times, spreading hope, sharing her struggle, inspiring many to get up and do the things they love to do despite their cancer. In a little over three years, as a part of the American Cancer Society’s DetermiNation fundraising team, she has raised more than $10,000 for cancer research.

Six weeks after her spleen was removed Cook competed in the 2011 Boston Marathon. She finished in 3:30. This past September she ran her first ultra, the Vermont 50. She was the fourth female to finish, covering the 50-mile course in 8:30. “The ultra was the ultimate in endurance for me and showed that I can be the Wonder Woman that my friends like to call me.”

How is Wonder Woman doing now? “I am doing great!” she reports. “Positive attitude will get you there!” She surrounds herself with her heroes – her husband, who has been there for her every step of the way, her son Schuyler, stepson & daughter Stephen & Samantha, and her DetermiNation and Relay For Life friends. “There is nothing better than celebrating life,” she says, “and I do it all the time.” On dailymile and as a San Francisco Marathon ambassador she has truly felt the support of her virtual teammates!

Nancy will be back in Boston next month, toeing the line for her eighth start in Hopkinton.

Friday, March 30, 2012

A Crazy Survivor - Giving Back - Sharing HOPE

It will be 2 years in July that I was in the doctor’s office and I heard those words “You have cancer”. It has been a little more than a year that my chemo treatments ended, they thought they found more cancer in my spleen and removed it.  It could be that I continue to be in denial and “running” has helped me deal mentally and physically with being faced with cancer. Am I running away from reality? Maybe.
But maybe not. Maybe that is the best way I know how to deal with the stress and working to make my body healthier. People thought I was pretty nuts running throughout my treatment, finishing the Chicago marathon 2/3 of the way through chemo and then finishing Boston 6 weeks after they took my spleen. Maybe I am crazy. A crazy survivor that is!
Everyone deals with this disease differently. Most get scared, some get depressed, some get angry, and some just want to fight back. Or in my case and most cases we experience all of the above. And when do you call yourself a survivor anyway? In my mind, any day after you hear those words --- you are a survivor. After you walk out that door no matter what the next months bring, you are a survivor. After you are done treatments – you are a survivor. They killed it all and they say there is no more cancer? You are in remission and now it feels like it – you have earned your wings – a survivor
So what does it mean to give back? Why give back as a cancer survivor?.  I remember after finishing Boston last year with all that adversity and still a healthy 3:30 finish time (20 minutes faster than my age “BQ” – Boston qualifier) – I amazed myself – dressed in my Wonder Woman outfit and all. After “it” was all done, I didn’t continue to blog much, I felt my story was “over” – but what I realized is that my story was taking on a new life. A life of a survivor. Fighting Back & Celebrating Life.
What message can I send to others as a cancer survivor – a STRONG survivor. One of my quotes through my cancer journey was “If you have hope, you can share hope, and if you inspire others they will in turn inspire you”. This past week in Dallas – I read it on a Relay For Life Survivor tshirt “I AM HOPE” – Loved the message! I want to inspire and spread hope. This is forefront in my mind. I want to share my story and help anyone that may need my words to build up their own hope- I want to share it.  In less than one year I have felt the strength of spreading hope. Not just from speaking and sharing my story, but from first hand experiences. First I reached out and encouraged my friend Barbara who had breast cancer a few months after my diagnosis.  Then another friend from college, Cheryl was faced with stage 4 breast cancer and a double mastectomy after her chemo. Both of these women proved to be amazing “Wonder Women” in the face of cancer. I was so proud of them. My friend Sasha was stricken with grief when she lost her friend Crissy. I reached out to comfort her and carry Crissy’s ribbon on my “Cape of Hope” Again just recently my friend Susan informed me she is facing a breast cancer diagnosis and is “joining the club”.  Then at Mount Snow I was introduced to my friend, a fellow ski coach Mike's mom. She was so worried and stressed with her diagnosis. After talking to my husband and me she felt so much better and had hope that everything would be ok - and she would be able to get through it. Last but not least I found out today that my dear friend Lily, the sister of fellow Dream Team Boston marathoner, Charlie, was diagnosed with cancer this week. This news struck me hard this time. When will it stop! :( Each and everyone of these people have truly inspired me and have made me even stronger and so blessed to have them as friends -- and I am so glad to be a live to be there for each one of them & share that there is hope.
Wonder Woman in Chicago 2010 
We need to keep fighting. We need to keep raising the much-needed funds to find a cure and give strength and answers to our friends, who ever they are to get through their own battle with the disease. We need to advocate for affordable health care and laws that support the fight against cancer.
Please continue to raise the dollars and share your story of why you run for the American Cancer Society DetermiNation  team. Share the hope of more birthdays for more people. It will be my 8th Boston marathon, my 27th marathon and my 8th DetermiNation effort.  So far we have raised almost $8500 as the Dream Team !  I looked at the group of people who are running for DNation in Boston -- at least 3 other cancer survivors in addition to me - are sharing their stories, sharing hope ---- on the line to raise funds for the Society and fight back. The others all have a personal connection -- very close connection -- and are repeat runners -- fighting each year to find a cure.
Charlie & Lily at Boston 2011

Wonder Woman in Boston 2011
The Cape of HOPE