Half Marathon #12 Training

In eight days I will be running my 12th half marathon. The Indy 500 Mini Marathon has been on my bucket list for a few years, but it usually falls the same weekend we take our eighth graders to Washington, DC. This year our trip is the week after the mini, so my daughter Bethany and I signed up. We actually signed up when we were at the expo for the Monumental Half Marathon in November. Bethany was a little freaked out that she signed up for her second half marathon before she’d run her first. But hey, we got $5 off and a free tech shirt, so how could we go wrong?

Bethany and I have been training for a couple months. Now that I am 50, I’ve found my long runs just keep getting slower. However, last weekend we ran our longest run of 11 miles, and our pace was a respectable 10:35 (respectable for me, but maybe not for Bethany). Sunday I ran five miles with my fast friends. They make running look so effortless while I am about 15 feet behind struggling to breathe. They were chatting away, and would occasionally ask me a question, but I had no idea what they were even talking about. So why do I run with them? Because I love them, and because it pushes me. Sometimes I get comfortable just getting my miles in, but I don’t really push myself out of that comfort zone. If I want to run well, I have to be willing to be uncomfortable. We ran those five miles at a 9:45 pace, which at this point is super fast for me. Jennifer had already run five miles, and then added another 3.1 after our five…at an 8:15 pace. Geez.

Fast. Something I’ve never been, nor will I ever be. When I talk to my eighth graders about my running, they don’t get that concept. When I told them I was running the Indy Mini, some asked if I thought I would win. Sure, Kids. I’m confident that out of the 30-35,000 runners, I will win. I told them that really isn’t the goal of most runners. But it’s a race. Why would you enter a race if you don’t think you can win, Mrs. Stath? I tried to explain the age groups, and how my goal is usually to place in the top 20% of my age group. But why would you run over 13 miles for that? Ummm…because we get really cool medals and a shirt. I guess from a 13 year old’s perspective, the fact that a 50 year old teacher would run 13.1 miles to get a medal doesn’t make much sense. It made me ask myself why I really do it.

There are so many reasons to run a half marathon. First, there is no other feeling like crossing that finish line, knowing I did something that not many people do. I have done the work – and it is work – and accomplished my goal. Running it with my daughter? That is a pleasure that not many moms get to experience. Running this distance has been life-changing for me. I didn’t begin running until I was 42, and I ran my first half almost seven years ago at 43. I never dreamed I could run 13 miles; I thought it was silly to even want to run for over two hours. But I did it. It taught me that even as a middle-aged mom and grandmother, I could still meet new challenges. It gave me confidence to take risks. I love the camaraderie of the running community. When we go to Indianapolis next weekend, I will enjoy being surrounded by other runners at the hotel, expo, and restaurants. There’s just a different type of energy in the air.

Running long distance doesn’t come without sacrifice and sometimes discomfort. My hip began hurting a couple weeks ago. It was fine when I ran, but hurt after. It is better after a couple trips to the chiropractor, and I have three more appointments scheduled for next week, including one right before we leave for Indy. Runners also sacrifice time. Long runs take time away from family, not only during the run itself, but when I am crashed on the couch afterward. Thankfully my husband is supportive since he was also a runner. Knowing he will be there when I finish makes me look forward to the finish line even more.

Bethany, thank you for taking time to train with me and to commit to this race. There really is something special about pounding the pavement with you. I am so incredibly proud of you. Let’s rock this race! Do you think we can win?

Turns Out 50 Isn’t Just a Number

I have been 50 for just over a month. It’s been a busy month, but I’ve still had time to analyze this next phase of my life. What I’ve come to learn is that a lot of people lied to me. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard 50? It’s just a number!  You’re 50? Oh, don’t worry about that; it’s just a number. You are all liars.

Guess what. It is not just a number. Not at all. 50 is hot flashes. 50 is wrinkly skin and baggy eyes. 50 is weight gain that can’t be explained. 50 is going to bed at 9:00. 50 is running slower even when one is training harder. 50 is craving chocolate. 50 is not just a number.

I’ve always known I wouldn’t age gracefully; I would fight it every step of the way. Some things I can’t really do much about. The hot flashes hit this past fall. I suppose it was nature’s way of getting me ready to turn 50. I remember my mother having them; it wasn’t pretty. And God forbid we tease her. That was not allowed. I thought I had hot flashes when I was pregnant, but I was really just hot all the time. These menopausal hot flashes are a different beast. They begin at my core and within three seconds consume my body. When I am at home, I start fanning, moving clothes, throwing off blankets, and sometimes go out to the garage where it’s cool. At night in bed, sometimes I just strip. In my younger years, that meant a completely different thing. At 50, it just means I am on fire. Flannel sheets? Hell no. I cannot even imagine how miserable those things – that I once loved – would feel. Heavy sweaters for work? Nope.

Weight gain. This is a real issue for me, and one I am not handling well. Until my late 30s, weight was never an issue. I could eat whatever I wanted (burgers, candy, donuts, chips, and on and on), and I still maintained my petite size. In my forties, this all changed. Suddenly I had to exercise, run miles and miles, and I had to be more conscientious about what I consumed. Still, an occasional cookie – or sleeve of Girl Scout cookies – didn’t hurt me; I just ran it off. Oreos and milk were still on my menu. My favorite post-run snack was a Diet Pepsi and Nutty Bars. I could not eat what I did in my earlier years, but I could eat smaller portions of what I liked.

Fast forward to the last year. I can’t eat shit. As of today, I am at my highest weight (besides when I was carrying another human inside of me). I know that it’s not awful, but on my five foot frame, those little fat cells are just accumulating around my middle. Heck, my workout clothes are too tight. I put my age, weight, and goal weight into the Lose It app a couple weeks ago, and to lose one pound a week, I can only eat 1049 calories a day! Seriously. As I was going through the McDonald’s drive-through today (Don’t judge – I got a Diet Coke and grilled chicken), I saw that one of those mint shakes has 680 calories. That’s over half of my daily allowance. That, my friends, sucks.

And if you watch television, you’ve seen that food, really fattening food, is marketed constantly. We have always joked about how little my mother eats at holiday gatherings. She literally has a teaspoonful of each item. Now I get it. If I eat a normal meal, I see it on the scale. I listened to a podcast while I was running today, and a doctor was talking about fat. She learned that she has to stop eating at 4:00 p.m., and doesn’t eat again until 10:00 a.m. She is a scientist and learned that there is something that happens at night that gets rid of fat, and if she gives it more time to work, she can maintain her weight. I would starve. And my family would make me move out because I’d be mean.

So, what’s the answer? I have not yet figured it out. I have begun to drink more water, and I can already tell a difference in how I feel. I was up to about five diet soft drinks a day. My belly felt bloated all the time, and I knew it was just bad for me. I am going to work on my diet, but it’s a struggle. I truly don’t like most veggies. I can’t even force them down. My daughters are all working at losing weight and getting in better shape, so that will help.

Skin. There are all kind of anti-aging products out there, but geez, they are expensive! Nerium and Rodan and Fields are constantly on my Facebook feed, and some good friends sell them, but I just cannot afford them. I found something less expensive that I am going to try. As strange as it sounds, I ordered Robin McGraw’s skincare (you know, Dr. Phil’s wife). I watched her pitch at the end of one of his shows (Don’t judge; there isn’t much on at that time), and since it was affordable, I thought I’d try it. I’ll keep you posted (it hasn’t arrived yet).

There are a few positives about being 50. I can tell people I am wiser; I’m really still learning, but because I am old, it seems like I should be wiser. I really worried about my wardrobe for awhile, but then I decided that I am 50; I can wear whatever I want. I also feel bolder in standing up for what is right and good. What the heck – I don’t have that many years left to say what I think.

I often think about what my mom was like at my age. She exercised and worked to maintain her health, but she did nothing outside of caring for her house and for me. Now, that’s not a bad thing, but I would be so bored. I am on the other extreme. I work full-time as an eighth grade teacher, teach Tabata classes, sell real estate, run, direct the high school play with my daughter, coach an academic team, and I just finished coaching the JV cheer team. It’s a busy life, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I find rewards in all I do. For me, at 50, I still have a lot to give. I get really tired on some of my busy days, but if I am making a difference in a kids’ life, helping someone else get more fit, or helping someone find his dream home, it’s worth it.

50 isn’t just a number. It’s a large number that means life is passing by quickly. It’s a number that means I probably should spend less time obsessing over the negatives and more time appreciating what I can do. I ran nine miles today. I ran slower than I used to, but I ran nine miles on a Sunday afternoon just because I could. This body that is carrying several extra pounds carried me nine miles. This body, that some days I really dislike, can still do squats, burpees, pushups, and more. This body can climb up to my classroom several times a day to teach thirteen year olds to write, to read well, and to be kind to one another. This 50 year old body can run and climb with my grandkids and kayak with my husband. This 50 year old slightly chubby body can laugh and cry and encourage and scream and love.

50? It’s not just a number.

 

 

2017…Bring it on!

2017 is upon us, and as is typical, I like to take time to reflect upon the previous year, and make plans for the upcoming year. I don’t make resolutions; they are usually broken. I do try to set some goals for myself, but I make them something I can manage. I set goals throughout the year, so it’s nothing out of the ordinary. Even on days I am off work, I set little goals like finishing laundry, getting photos in albums, or taking some time to read.

2016 was a decent year for us. Morgan and her family moved back home after living in four states in as many years. I ran three half marathons, one of which was with my daughter Bethany. My husband began a new job and is now teaching in the same school as I. Nothing extraordinary happened, but nothing devastating happened either (except Trump getting elected, but I won’t go there).

As I was driving to visit my mother today, with my five year old grandson in the back seat, I thought about my goals for 2017. I turn 50 in 24 days. I was not bothered when I turned 30 or 40, but 50 is a little tough. I find myself questioning my clothing choices…You’re almost 50; should you really wear those leggings? You’re almost 50; you should consider more practical shoes…You’re almost 50; maybe you should cut your hair shorter. So, my first goal is to accept 50 as just another number, to wear what I want, and to get in shape. My next goal is to run stronger, to prove that just because I’m 50 doesn’t mean I can’t improve; 50 doesn’t mean I have to change who I am. I’ve gotten slower the last two years, especially after knee surgery, but is that just an excuse? I intend to find out. My friend Mary Jane and I plan to train harder for our half marathons that will take place in the spring. I want to be in the best shape I can and not let 50 be an excuse to let up on exercise.

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With Layne chatting away in the backseat, I thought about a more important goal: making great memories for my grandkids. I thought about the precious memories I have of my grandmothers, especially my Grandma Allen. What I realized was that those memories have nothing to do with things or money. Grandma Allen was poor by today’s standards, but I never knew that. She never owned her own home; she made her own clothes; and she lived a very conservative life. Until I was 16, Grandma lived in a garage that had been converted to an apartment. I loved that little place. It had a little bedroom, bathroom, small living room, and a kitchen, and it was perfect.

The only trips Grandma took were to visit my uncle in Texas, and he paid for those trips. She had a handful of toys for us grandkids to play with, and she saved her thread spools and greeting cards for our entertainment. My cousins and I would build great towers with those spools, and would attempt to stack greeting cards creating card houses. I don’t remember my grandma ever buying me anything or taking me anywhere, except one summer when she took my cousin, Marcia, and me to visit family in Kentucky.

Marcia and I were city girls, so this trip with Grandma was  quite the adventure. We spent a week on Christine’s farm, and a few days at our Great Aunt Lillian’s farm. We explored their homes, built a tree house out of odds and ends, and easily entertained ourselves. We had no electronics, but we had the best time. Grandma didn’t need Disney World to make great memories for us.

The memories I have with my grandma are of her  spending time with me. She would make me grilled cheese for dinner and popcorn for a snack. I slept with her in her bed, and she always complained about my kicking her all night. I went with her to the laundromat and the grocery store. She didn’t buy lavish gifts or take me to museums. She didn’t buy me a treat every time we went to the store. She didn’t have to. Her time and her love were all I needed to create those beautiful memories that I hope to create with my grandkids.

We feel very blessed that Morgan and her family are here so that we have the opportunity to spend time with her kids. Gary’s daughter and her family live in Virginia, so we are lucky to see them once a year. We both really miss just getting to know her children, and being able to spend time with them. I hate that they won’t have memories of us being in their lives as they’ve grown up.

Layne is five, so he is at that oh-so-inquisitive age. I bet he has said, “Hey, Nana…” 100 times this week. “Hey, Nana, why are there trees?” “Hey, Nana, how did they make that gym floor?” “Hey, Nana, what was your dad’s name?” And as a Nana, I cherish every single Hey, Nana. I hope he and Rhett always want to spend time with us. I hope they remember the little moments, like our walks to see the horses or going to basketball games together. I hope they grow up to be better men having spent time with us. I hope they will always say, “Hey, Nana?”

Bring on 2017. I am ready to be an fun-loving 50 year old nana! Bring on those hot flashes, wrinkles, and age spots. I won’t let them hold me back from being the best senior citizen I can be. Happy New Year!

We Did It!!

Yesterday I had the pleasure of running 13.1 miles with my middle daughter, Bethany, at the Indianapolis Monumental Half Marathon. It was truly a memorable weekend. We took off for Indy Friday afternoon, checked into our hotel, and then walked a few blocks to the Convention Center for the expo. Bethany had been to an expo with me, but not as a runner. While there, we got a little caught up in the excitement and signed up for another half marathon, the Indy 500 Mini in May. We got a free tech tee for signing up early, and who doesn’t want a free shirt? It was fun just to explore the booths, but it was more fun to carb load afterward. We chose Scotty’s Brewhouse for our last big pre-race meal. While most runners would choose a healthy, carb-filled meal (Is that an oxymoron?), I wanted to try something different: a grilled cheese with pulled pork and mac and cheese on it. Yup. It was messy, but delicious. And on the side? Cottage fries with cheese, bacon, and sour cream. Hey…I was going to be running over 13 miles the next morning; I needed energy. Bethany chose grilled chicken. Boring. But that might be one of the reasons she beat me!

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When running a long-distance race, there is so much that can go wrong, starting with the weather. Two years ago when my niece, my husband, and I ran the Monumental, it was 15 degrees. It was miserable. Yesterday the weather was perfect. It was chilly while we were waiting to start, but not unbearable. Once we began running, it was gorgeous. Indy is a beautiful city in which to run, and on a sunny day, it’s even more brilliant. Another obstacle to a successful race is stomach issues. Without going into gross detail, yesterday went well. Even my playlist was put together perfectly, which was a total fluke. I had tried to put ‘Living on a Prayer…Halfway there’ at about the 6.5 mile mark, and it landed exactly where I wanted it to.

Bethany seemed to enjoy every moment of the race, which is what I had hoped she would do. I told her ahead of time to take it all in.I didn’t want her to worry about her time or about whether or not she’d finish; I knew she would. The joy of the race comes not only from achieving a monumental goal, but also from enjoying the small moments, the cheers from the spectators (who were amazing yesterday), the sounds of music along the course, the funny signs, and the other runners who all have stories about why they are there. The joy comes from the scenery, the gorgeous neighborhoods, and the pounding of thousands of feet, all working toward the same goal. The joy comes when you see a firefighter in full gear, including his tank, running a marathon, runners with pictures of loved ones ironed on their shirts, and children along the route offering high fives. A few miles into our run, Bethany said, “This is so much fun!” And at mile eight she said, “Mom, I think it’s so cool that you run. If you didn’t, I wouldn’t be here.” That was my favorite moment in the race. I don’t know if she even knows how much that meant to me. We, as parents, never know what our children will learn from us. Knowing that I had a small part in her achieving something she never thought possible, and that gave her so much confidence, was indescribable.

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As the race went on, I could tell that Bethany could run faster. I was settling into about a 10:35 pace, which was fine with me, but she kept easing a little ahead. At mile 9, I told her to go. I did not want to hold her back if she could go faster. She hesitated, but then a lady running near us also encouraged her to go. She told her that it would make it harder for me if I knew she was waiting, and that if she felt good, she should take advantage of it because it might not happen again. She took off, and I relaxed knowing she was running her race. I was tired those last few miles, but kept a steady pace. Crazy things can run through a runner’s mind when exhaustion sets in. At one point I thought maybe I’ll get a 13.1 tattoo after this. It’s my tenth half marathon, and geez, this is hard. I deserve to have a tattoo. When I told my husband that had run through my mind, he just rolled his eyes. At mile 11, I reminded myself that I was NEVER going to run a full marathon. I couldn’t imagine having another 15 miles to go.

Bethany ended up finishing about five minutes before I did. I am so proud of her! Running is hard work. It takes dedication and determination, and it’s physically demanding. It takes time to train, and with our busy lives, carving that time out isn’t always easy. Completing a race can be life-changing; it gives us confidence in all areas of our lives. I am so thrilled to have shared this journey with my daughter. Congratulations, Bethany!

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Half Marathon #10

On November 5 I will run my tenth half marathon, the Indianapolis Monumental Half Marathon. It’s been two years since I ran an entire 13.1 miles; the last three I worked some walking in for various reasons. I need to know I can still run the whole route – that my knee can endure 13.1 miles of pounding.

However, accomplishing that goal is not the most important aspect of the race. This race is special because I will be running it with my daughter Bethany. She began running in January of this year, and has since run a couple 5Ks and a 5-miler. She decided this summer that she was ready to take on the challenge of running her first half marathon, and I agreed to train and run with her. When Gary and I began running almost eight years ago, our hope was that we would be a positive example for our kids and grandkids. We wanted to show them that it is never too late to live a healthier lifestyle; it is never too late to set and achieve goals. Since that time, all of the girls have worked fitness into their lives. Gary’s daughter Tamara and her girls have participated in Girls on the Run; Morgan has run a few races and was recently certified to teach yoga; and the youngest, Addie, has now begun running and hopes to work up to a half marathon. Gary’s son Bryce has always been active. He and his wife run, ski, and climb. I don’t know how much we have influenced our children’s choices, but I hope we’ve had at least a little impact.

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Training for this race has been interesting. I haven’t worked as hard as I should. It stayed hot so long that my runs suffered. Our long runs have been slower than I would like, but we’ve kept running. This past Saturday we ran 11 miles, our longest training run. It went better than our previous long runs, and I feel that Bethany is ready for this race and will run well. I feel that I had better quit eating junk for the next two weeks and increase my water intake or I’m going to struggle. No matter what, I wouldn’t trade these past weeks of sharing this experience with my daughter. I cannot wait for her to experience crossing that finish line because I know it can be life-changing. I know she will gain a confidence she’s never experienced. I know she will feel a sense of pride that is unlike any other. I know she’ll want to sign up for another!

I have had the unique pleasure of running two of my nieces’ first half marathons with them, and felt so blessed that they wanted to share that time with me. After running a couple 5Ks and a 10K together, Erin and I ran the Monumental two years ago – it was 15 degrees that day. Emily and I ran the Hoosier Half Marathon in Bloomington. Despite being held April 9, it was 20 degrees at the start, and it did not warm up (I won’t even get into the hills). Now I have the honor of running 13.1 with Bethany, which I hope will take place on a perfect 55 degree day. There is something special about running a longer race with someone. If you run, you know that some of the best, most honest conversations take place when we are drenched in sweat, our muscles are aching, and yet we carry on…together.

I’ve written before that sometimes a race is about so much more than a PR or personal goals. My best runs have been when I’ve run for a greater cause, whether it was to help someone complete her first half, or to raise money and awareness for St. Jude. The medals earned represent time spent training and sharing in a common goal. The medals represent not giving up, even when it hurts. They represent achieving something that a few years ago seemed impossible.

Bethany, I am so proud of you! You’ve accomplished so much this year, and it is truly my honor to run with you. I pray for clear skies, perfect temps, strong legs, and settled bellies. Heck, maybe someday you, Morgan, Addie, and I can run one together. That would really be a miracle! Let’s eat healthy foods the next two weeks, okay? Good Luck, Bethany! Thank you for allowing me to be your running partner. Thank you for loving yourself enough to take on such a monumental challenge. Now go #BeMonumental!

Running for St. Jude

We’ve all heard about St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, but have you really taken the time to learn about their mission and about all of the great things they do? If I didn’t have a personal connection, I can’t say that I would have taken the time to learn. Oh, I’d have been brought to tears by their commercials, and donated a dollar here and there when I was shopping, but if it weren’t for my great friend, Katie Weyer, I would not have had the opportunity to really know St. Jude, and to meet not only families impacted by the hospital, but also incredible doctors, nurses, and other staff whose mission is to save kids.

The following is Katie’s story, the reason we run for St. Jude.

The doctors and nurses at Jude – Simply amazing people. I text/call/email them constantly and they still put up with me. They are the reason I am here today, and I can’t even put into words how important they are to me. Even through non-cancer issues, they are my people. I am fairly certain that not many people get wedding gifts from their oncologists, or messages from their radiation oncologists on their birthdays, or countless texts and phone calls from their nurse practitioners.

Let’s start at the beginning of my journey…

I first knew something was wrong my senior year at Belmont University where I was a cross country runner. I went from being able to run 13-14 miles without a problem to not being able to run five minutes without feeling as though I was suffocating. I had two knee surgeries that year, so I don’t think the problem presented itself as obvious at the time. Looking back on it, it was my chest, not my knees, that kept me from running. I was going to the doctor at Vanderbilt at least once, if not twice, a week; and I was seeing the Vandy doc in the training room ever single time he was there. He even uttered the words to me, “it is nothing serious – not like lymphoma or leukemia or anything.” Needless to say, that doctor from Vanderbilt called me after my diagnosis to apologize and tell me he totally misinterpreted my symptoms.

I had my second knee surgery in May of 2005 at Vanderbilt, but they never did a chest x-ray as a pre-op test because I was a healthy college athlete. Looking back, my heart rate was about 140 on the morning of my surgery; they told me it was just nerves. I know now it was a cancer symptom. St. Jude said I was lucky I came out of regular anesthesia, and honestly I remember sleeping for three days straight after the knee surgery – another sign from my body.

I was doing my first round of student teaching that semester, and I had a fever over 100 degrees every single day. Every. Single. Day. I was in bed for two weeks over Easter. Every day that I went to student teaching was a day I lied to my professors about what my fever really was.

Looking back, my body gave me so many signs: I lost 25 pounds; my hair was falling out; and I really looked like death.

Hodgkin’s Stage IIB

Diagnosed Date 6/22/2005

Relapse Date 9/2006

I went on vacation to Fort Walton with Brian and Mary Jane Beckort early that June. I remember feeling so terrible during that week, and all I wanted to do was sleep. We got home the weekend of the Glen Ress Golf Tournament, and I woke up that Saturday with a HUGE lump in my neck. HUGE. My mom was out of town at a wedding in Indianapolis, so I showed it to Dr. Ress in passing at the golf tournament. He told me then to come in Monday. The rest is history.

Dr. Ress figured out just by looking at me and talking to me that I had cancer. He said it was either lymphoma or leukemia. We followed up with some doctors here at Perry County Memorial Hospital, and then at St. Mary’s in Evansville. When I told my friend Kristin about the diagnosis, her dad – a doctor at St. Jude – called my dad and said get to St. Jude in Memphis. He said he had a friend, Melissa, who could save my life. This was on a Friday I believe. We loaded up (Mom, Dad, and me) in my Aunt Julie’s van and went to Memphis. We arrived at St. Jude on a Sunday afternoon. My college teammates and great friends Kristin and Lindsay (both from Memphis) met us at the hospital. Did I mention a person has to be 21 or younger to be admitted to St. Jude? I was turning 22 that coming Thursday. Monday, June 20, I began a gamut of tests at St. Jude, which ultimately gave me a diagnosis of Stage IIB Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

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I remember this day well. Our family was on vacation and on the beach at Virginia Beach when Katie’s dad called my husband and gave him the news. You know how you can remember where you were when you received some type of life-changing news? This was one of those days. ~ Joyce

I signed all of the consent papers on Wednesday, June 22, the night before my 22nd birthday. I can remember sitting in the consult room and they read all kinds of things to me. After the first two sentences, I didn’t hear anything else. “You’re daughter, Katie, has Stage IIB Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Left untreated, this is fatal.” It didn’t matter to me, or my mom and dad what they said after that because we were doing whatever it took to beat this cancer. My doctor, Melissa Hudson, lined out everything. I had 12 weeks of chemo (that I could do in Evansville with the help of Dr. Tony Stephens), and then 3.5 weeks of radiation that had to be done in Memphis.

They let me have the day off of my birthday, so I started chemo on my first full day of being 22, June 24. Thinking back on it, so many fun things come to mind to do on your first day of being 22, and chemo is definitely not one that comes to mind.

That Friday night we went to dinner with Kristin and her parents, and another doctor from St. Jude. I really didn’t feel any different. The next day, Kristin’s dad took my dad golfing and I seriously hibernated for the next 72 hours. My mom said it was like I was a baby again, just sleeping all day, waking to go to the bathroom and that was it.

On top of all of this, my twin sister Kelly was getting married on July 2 and St. Jude couldn’t promise I would be able to be there. Can you imagine missing your sister’s wedding? I was able to go to the wedding and all went well. My 12 weeks of chemo and 3.5 weeks of radiation went as well as can be expected. I student taught with Mary Jane on the days I wasn’t getting chemo, and then moved to Memphis for radiation. I finished treatment up in late October 2005.

Fast forward to September 2006. I had just been hired for my first teaching job at Tell City Junior High School, was helping with cross country, and just bought my first car. I went to the North Harrison cross country race on a Thursday night and left from there to head to Memphis. We arrived in Memphis at 1am, and had a PET scan the next morning. It was then we received the news that something had popped up. We came home for Labor Day Weekend, and went back to Jude on Tuesday to confirm relapse.

I honestly don’t remember a lot of this because I was numb and furious. Two weeks into school year and wham-o – I’m back in the cancer world. The good news was they had been following up with me every 3 months, so it hadn’t had that long to grow. However, they had suspected something in July, but couldn’t get it to come positive on a needle biopsy that summer. I should’ve known it was going to come back, but it really just shocked me.

The treatment plan this time was “salvage therapy” and “off protocol” meaning that they weren’t interested in putting me on a clinical trial, but rather just saving my life. Three intensive inpatient treatments (hadn’t ever been inpatient up until now) consisting of four to five days of being in a hospital bed because the chemo was so harsh. Three weeks in between, and then autologous (from my own cells, because they were cancer free) stem cell transplant. This stretch of the fall was terrible. I got so sick from the chemo. The thing that pulled me through it was cross country and getting to come home for some of the meets. Getting to make an impact with the girls gave me a purpose.

Worst day of this treatment cycle: The week of cross country semi-state, my mom and I were making plans to come home so I could go to Semi-state in Bloomington with the team. We had a very good chance to win the whole thing, which is a huge accomplishment for an unclassed sport in Indiana. There were only 4 semi-states in the whole state; I had to be there. We called my doc (Hudson) on her cell and she said to swing by clinic, get my labs drawn just for safe measure, and then hit the road. We packed, went to clinic for the draw and waited. When they called me back to A clinic, I was ecstatic to be leaving. My happiness didn’t last long. They told me that I had a platelet count of zero and that traveling was out of the question. I broke down right there in clinic. I was simply devastated.

After that I remember talking to Coach Beckort on the phone and just being devastated about not being able to come. He said “you’ll be here” and I told him he was nuts. Long story short, Claire Tuggle’s dad, Bob Tuggle had Zac Hartz make a life-size cut-out of me so that I could, in fact, be there for semi-state. The girls carried that cut out around at the meet, and that meet was one for the history books. I did get to go to the state meet, and how fun that was.

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After the three hellacious chemo rounds inpatient, it was time to begin preparing for the transplant. I was lucky because I could get my own cells, but also that I had an identical twin sister, Kelly, who could also give me cells. They took my stem cells out between my 2nd and 3rd chemo rounds and froze them. I had to sit still in a chair for nearly six hours hooked up through my central line and an IV to syphon out all the cells. They then seriously tested EVERY SINGLE thing in my body to get baselines for transplant. We went home for Thanksgiving, and then Jeanie DeSpain drove us down to Memphis the Sunday after Thanksgiving so I could go to inpatient on the fourth floor, the bone marrow transplant floor. I wouldn’t leave that room for over three weeks.

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I got some very toxic chemo for transplant. The goal was to wipe my blood of all blood cells – red cells, white cells, platelets, neutrophils, etc. When they would run my labs, they would read 0’s across the board. They count everything in transplant around your actual transplant day. For me, this day was December 4, 2006. So the days leading up were known as Day -3 , -2, -1, etc. with December 4 being Day Zero. Then day +1, +2, etc. I don’t remember much of this time, as I spent most time sleeping or puking. The goal every day was just to take a bath and change pajamas. it is really hard to describe it really. My mom and I were together in a very small space for almost four weeks. Physical Therapy would come and beg me to just stand up. I – a collegiate athlete – then considered the simple act of standing hard work.

Kelly, her husband Chris and and his parents Tony and Rhonda came down the weekend of the St. Jude Marathon. Kelly ran the 5k, Chris the half, and Tony the full. I could watch the race out my transplant window. Mom went down for the races to watch; it gave her a nice break from dealing with me🙂

I got out of the transplant unit about a week before Christmas, but we had to stay very close to the hospital. We had to come to the hospital every day for blood counts and other various tests. We didn’t know if we would be home for Christmas or not. We got home December 23 about 8 pm. I had to be back at Jude just a few days after Christmas to start radiation.

I finally finished radiation in late January 2007 and have been cancer free ever since!

Throughout this whole experience, there were also many positives, such as the friends I met. The world of cancer is one that I don’t wish on anyone, but unfortunately everyone is confronted with it at some point. The world of pediatric cancer is something even more indescribable. I was lucky enough to make friends with several other patients and their families. I met a girl, a lot like me my very first week at St. Jude – Kristen Whitlow. She is six years younger than I, but we were diagnosed with the exact same thing and went through treatment together. She relapsed three months before I did, meaning that we can still compare battle scars to this day. She is the one person in the world that understands my cancer experience at the very core. She lived it too – and still lives with it just like I do. If I am having a problem or worried, she is my first contact.

I met two boys during transplant: Westin Dietz and Jay Rogers. Westin had neuroblastoma and Jay had Ewing’s Sarcoma. My mom networked with their moms, and Westin’s little sister Emma spent a lot of time in my room. She helped make me smile every single day no matter what. Unfortunately, both of these brave guys aren’t around anymore. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of them. It’s hard to wonder why I am here and they aren’t. That’s tough. I got to see Jay not long before he passed when I was in Memphis for a checkup. We were able to snap a picture together before he got called back by imaging for his appointment. Jay was a fifth or sixth grader during transplant. Westin was 22 months old. A baby.

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I have countless other Jude friends. Kevin had AML and was a patient at Tulane in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit. He, along with countless others, relocated to St. Jude when their medical records were destroyed by the hurricane. He just celebrated ten years post transplant. His wife, Hannah, is a Hodgkin’s survivor, who was treated at St. Jude. My good pal Tommy was four at diagnosis and had non-hodgkin’s lymphoma. I keep up with him and his family via facebook. My friend, Thad, who was closer to my age at diagnosis, had Hodgkin’s, but luckily he never relapsed. The same is true for Caroline from Louisiana. There are countless others as well. Kelly was down visiting once and Tommy went running to her arms as he thought she was me. That goes to show you that kids don’t see a person by how much hair they have on their head. I was bald as can be, and Kelly had a full head of hair. Not even noticing, he jumped into her arms.

My mom. My mom was there with me through the entire process. She took care of me without complaining on my good days, and more importantly on my bad days. She remembers way more of the story than I do, as I slept through a lot of the terrible times.

My sister Kelly dealt with the brunt of the storm here at home. She answered the question after question from everyone she saw. All the while, one can only imagine the questions and fear that she had as her twin faced this deadly disease.

The Furmans opened their house and hearts to us from the first minute we stepped in Memphis. I called Jane once from being inpatient and told her I needed a pound of shaved ham from the Kroger deli. She delivered about 30 minutes later, and I am fairly certain I ate the entire thing.

All of my extended family and friends went into protective and helpful mode. It was awesome.

I could rattle off 1000 more stories. I’ve compared it to college, with mom as my roommate and a terrible class load. The bottom line is that I wouldn’t change my cancer experience for anything. Yes, it was terrible and horrible at times, but it has shaped me to be who I am today. Do I wish I could run 13.1 miles without walking? Sure. Do I wish I didn’t have to go to the doctor more than my peers? Sure. Do I like myself better after cancer? Absolutely. I have a greater appreciation for what is important and I feel like I have a good sense of how to live life to the fullest.

Fortunately, Katie’s story goes on. She is a seventh grade science teacher, cross country and track coach, wife, and most importantly, the mother of Jack. She was given her life, and she uses that gift to make a difference in students’ lives every single day. Because of St. Jude, she is able to mentor the youth of our community. St. Jude didn’t just make a difference in Katie’s life; it made a difference in the lives of her family, friends, and our students.

My friends and I will be running the St. Jude Half Marathon around the tenth anniversary of transplant – the day I got a second chance at life. What better way to celebrate than spending the weekend at St. Jude with friends, raising money for the families who are still fighting the good fight, and appreciating my health as together we cover 13.1 miles. – Katie Weyer, St. Jude Survivor

There are so many reasons runners sign up for races. We want to see what we can do, improve our times, run with friends, earn a cool medal, and the list goes on. This race is different. As we were running the Memphis streets last year, we commented that there was no way we could not run again this year. Running down those streets hearing kids and parents thank us for raising money that would help in their fight was so humbling. Running through the St. Jude Campus was perhaps the hardest and best part of the run. Young patients who were able to be outside cheered us on as we trotted by; it should have been us cheering them on as they were deep into the hardest fight of all. Over the next three months, our team will be asking – and sometimes begging – for your donations. We have seen first-hand what your money does. We have our friend because people just like you gave. Cancer knows no boundaries, and can strike any of our children, grandchildren, nieces, or nephews. Let’s help St. Jude families so that as they are fighting this disease, they don’t have to worry about their finances.

Here’s the link to my fundraising page. After you make your donation, please consider sharing this link with your friends!

http://fundraising.stjude.org/site/TR?px=2902756&fr_id=59186&pg=personal

 

 

Back To School Already?

This summer zipped by at record speed. We have had a decent summer, but other than a quick trip to Chicago, we didn’t vacation, we weren’t involved in a summer musical, and I didn’t quite meet all of my summer goals. I’m not quite sure where the time went. With school beginning next week, I find my emotions in turmoil. I’m not ready to give up my time at home, but I am excited about the upcoming school year, as each new year brings with it a new crop of students, renewed hope for a successful year for everyone, and new opportunities to impact the young people of our community. As I’ve spent time in my classroom preparing, I’ve thought about what advice I could give parents, from an eighth grade teacher’s perspective. Here it goes!

  • Set routines early. So many students stay up really late on their phones or playing video games (after you go to sleep – they tell me!). They then struggle to stay awake in class. Set some limits. I know I have difficulty focusing when I am tired, and I can see that my students do, too. #phoneproblems
  • That routine goes for homework as well. Whether you agree with your child having homework or not, chances are it’s going to happen. I know…your child is in school ALL day; why should he or she have homework? We simply can’t get it all in at school; students need practice on skills; and it is preparing them for the future when they will have to know how to manage their time. Many students procrastinate on longer assignments, and then have a lot to do the night before it is due. Please ask your child when it was assigned rather than assuming the teacher just assigned it that day. #homeworkhelps
  • Make school attendance a priority. Believe it or not, if you let your child miss school for every little ache, he or she will develop a habit of poor attendance. This could carry over into adult life, and guess what. Businesses fire employees who don’t show up. Aside from that, missing classes means missing lessons and explanations. No teacher has time to thoroughly reteach a missed class. Your child will get a condensed version, which might not be enough. My younger two daughters still give me a hard time because if they weren’t vomiting or running a fever, they went to school. Period. I told them they would have many days when they wouldn’t feel perfect, and they had to learn to suck it up. Now they are punctual, responsible employees. #parentwin #sometimesimright
  • Be on time. When a student comes in late, even just ten minutes, the day is started on a bad note. He or she is behind before ever starting, and then spends the rest of class trying to catch up. At the junior senior high, classes are 45 minutes, so we start as soon as the bell rings. That few minutes can make a substantial difference. #earlymornings
  • Support your child’s teacher. Your attitude toward your child’s teacher will be reflected in your child’s attitude toward class. In thirteen years of schooling, it’s likely your child will have a teacher that either you or the child won’t really like, or you might not agree with that teacher’s methods. Trust me, it isn’t the end of the world. If you complain about the teacher in front of your child, he or she will learn to disrespect the teacher. Use it as a teaching point. Some day your child will work with a boss or coworkers he or she might not like. Learning to get along with others and respecting authority are such important life-skills. I can assure you that no teacher is out to get your child. We don’t make much money compared to others with bachelor’s or master’s degrees, so we did not go into teaching for the financial rewards. We went into teaching because we care about kids, and because we chose to make a difference rather than a large paycheck. We want your child to be successful. #weloveourjobsandyourkids
  • That being said, we can’t do it alone. I have done everything but back flips to try to motivate some kids, and it didn’t work. If education isn’t a priority in the family, or parents don’t care about behavior and grades, sometimes we struggle to reach the student. Do we give up? Nope. Do we get frustrated at the lack of effort? Sure. It takes the teacher, the family, and the student to succeed. If your child is failing, talk to your child and talk to the teacher. Don’t automatically blame the teacher. I can be the best teacher in Indiana, but if your child does no work, misses school a lot, or fails to pay attention in class, it is his or her responsibility. Hold him or her accountable. I will do anything I can to help a student, but that student also has to want to help himself or herself. #cantdobackflipsanymore
  • This brings me to my next point. Make sure your child is getting the help that is available if he or she doesn’t understand material. I continually tell my students that I am at school early every morning and will help them with any assignments or concepts they don’t feel comfortable with. I will stay after school. There is free tutoring every day after school. We want to help. Heck, we love to help! I enjoy that quiet one-on-one time. #freetutoringrocks
  • If your child comes home telling about something that happened in class, and it’s something that you don’t agree with, please talk to the teacher before assuming the story is accurate. Some kids leave out details or take things out of context, or just don’t want to get in trouble. Ask about it. Don’t blast us on social media before knowing the truth. We do see those things, and we do have feelings, and it hurts. Work with us; we want to work with you. #weshouldallgetalong
  • These years will go very quickly; enjoy them with your kids! My daughters are all grown and out of school (besides one still in college), and I can’t believe those days are behind us. They were blessed to be well-prepared for life beyond high school. Attend those conferences, go to their events at school, ask them what they are learning. #howdidIgetsoold

I sincerely hope that your child has a fantastic school year! I hope I have a fantastic school year! Let’s work together to make this year rock.

 

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