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

 

 

St. Jude Half Marathon

This blog is so long overdue, but with December came holiday preparations, and then came company. It’s a little difficult to write with a two year old and four year old running around. And so, it’s January and I’m writing what should have been written in early December.

On December 4, my friends Katie, Kelly, Jennifer, Mary Jane, and I traveled to Memphis for the St. Jude Half Marathon. We had been planning for months, and were anxious to begin what would be a pretty incredible experience. Our weekend began with a tour of St. Jude. We have all seen the children of St. Jude in the heart-wrenching commercials, but to see these kids and their families in person is indescribable. Katie is a St. Jude survivor, and is still a patient for follow-up tests. Seeing where she has spent so many hours – certainly the worst hours of her life – was both moving and inspiring. Witnessing her return to the place that has come to mean so very much to her was a privilege.

Touring St. Jude Jennifer, Mary Jane, Kelly, Me, and Katie

Touring St. Jude
Jennifer, Mary Jane, Kelly, Me, and Katie

The hospital itself was an amazing place. They have thought of everything to make the children as comfortable as possible. Their artwork lines the hallways; the reception desks are at a child’s level; the colors and murals are bright and cheerful. The doctors, nurses, and all staff members are truly heroes. To go to work each day knowing that their patients are young and cancer-stricken must be so trying. To spend their days comforting families must be exhausting. They build true, loving relationships with the kids, which was evident by the joy in their faces as they saw Katie walk in. It was like a member of their family had come home, and truly she had. No wonder she loves that place.

Long before race day, we five had decided that we were sticking together no matter what. Katie cannot run far distances because of the damage done to her lungs, so we had planned to walk all hills and to stop often for photos. I have to say, this race was the best race I have ever run. We had fun the whole way, even when moments of tears crept in, and the weather was perfect. There were spectators along the whole course, and many were parents of St. Jude kids. Because those of us who raised money for St. Jude wore special shirts, and the spectators were aware of that, many people thanked us as we ran by. That was so humbling.

At one point in the race, the course winds through the St. Jude Campus. I knew this would be difficult and emotional, and it was. Just nine years before, Katie had an autologous stem cell transplant and had watched the race from her hospital window. Now, she was running the race. She had fought back and won! How could we not shed a few tears at that moment? How could she not? Determined to have fun and not get caught up in emotions, we regrouped once we passed through. And then…and then…at mile six they had doughnuts! I wasn’t interested (I would have vomited), but the others had just said they were hungry, so they were thrilled.

At each mile marker, we stopped and had someone take a picture of us. They turned out great and are a wonderful reminder that we completed that journey together, one mile at a time.

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While each race I’ve run has been special for one reason or another, I can’t imagine anything topping our St. Jude experience. It was fun while being solemn at times; it was rewarding; it was humbling. Running it and spending the weekend with my four friends could not have gone better. We ate, we talked, Kelly and Katie rapped (seriously), we shopped, and we worked as a team for a greater cause.

At the finish

At the finish

The St. Jude race was my eighth half marathon, but more importantly, is was my best half marathon. No, I didn’t run fast. I didn’t place in the top 20%, but I finished with my friends and gained so much more than a PR. It was an experience I will never forget.

Again, thanks to all who donated to our team! Start saving your pennies as we will be collecting donations again this year!

Why you should donate to St. Jude: Katie’s Story

One of the best people I know is my co-worker and friend, Katie Weyer. Katie is the reason we are running the St. Jude Half Marathon on December 5. She is a St. Jude survivor, and we are so appreciative of the life-saving care she received, that we want to complete this race for her and with her, and to raise much-needed funds for the families of St. Jude. Below is Katie’s story.

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 on the day after my ninth 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.

Please consider donating to this very worthy cause. The five of us want to make a difference in the lives of St. Jude families. Use this link to make your donation. Please remember that every dollar matters. Our team would also greatly appreciate if you’d share this blog.

http://fundraising.stjude.org/site/TR?px=2902756&fr_id=40881&pg=personal

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Another Half Marathon in the Books!

I thought we were smart to run a half marathon the first weekend of November. We would be able to do our long training runs during October, so it would be a little cooler. November 1 would likely be cool, but quite comfortable for a run. I imagined a bright crisp day, just perfect for runners, but maybe a bit cool for the spectators. Ahhhh…perfect running weather!

Then we arrived in Indianapolis for the Monumental Half Marathon. And it was freezing. I had kept a close eye on weather.com, but had hoped the meteorologists were mistaken. A 30 degree high? A windchill of 18? No way. Friday evening we did everything we could to avoid going outside. Thank goodness for the skywalks from the hotel to the expo and mall. We did have to venture out into the bitter cold to go to dinner. It was snowing! On Halloween night, it was snowing. The night before our race, it was snowing. It was only flurries that melted when they hit the ground, but I did not want to see any sort of white flakes. My niece from Chicago met us in Indy, and had failed to check the weather. She was not prepared for a cold run; we took care of that at the expo.

As we were getting ready for the race Saturday morning, my husband had the local news on, and indeed, the windchill was 18  degrees! It was time to layer up…three layers of shirts, leggings, earband, gloves, shorts over leggings. I was so grateful that our hotel was just around the corner from the starting line. When we arrived in the lobby that morning, we were greeted by a lobby full of runners who were waiting until the last possible moment to head to the starting line. We joined them in waiting. My sister was with us and had planned to watch the race. I knew the cold temps would be much harder on her than on us. Once we began to run, we would warm up. She was going to freeze.

preindy

It was finally time for the race to begin. As I previously posted, this was to be Erin’s first half marathon. Erin had not trained for her first half marathon. I promised her that we would walk if necessary, and I was prepared to just enjoy the race without worrying about my time. I was also running this race for a charity, which I had never done. Two weeks before the race, I decided I would raise money for St. Jude Children’s Hospital. In those two weeks, my friends and family donated $1775; that is better than any PR.

I kissed my husband as he headed to his starting point, and Erin and I found our place. Usually I am so nervous before a race that my stomach is upset and my mind is racing. I wasn’t nervous at all for this race. I was there with 10,000 other runners, ready to run my sixth half marathon.

The starting line on the Monumental Marathon and Half Marathon

The starting line on the Monumental Marathon and Half Marathon

The gun went off, and we were off – well, it actually took Erin and I five minutes to get to the starting mat. The first five miles went by pretty quickly. After about two miles, I began to warm up. As we ran around Monumental Circle, a large crowd lined the street. There is no better feeling than running through a cheering crowd. It really energizes me. The best sign of the day said Could you hurry up! We’re freezing! At mile six, the sun came out. Erin and I had both bought new running sunglasses at the expo, so we were happy to see the bright sun. When we were just about to the split where the half marathoners turned back toward downtown and the marathoners took off in the other direction, I heard someone call my name. My friends Heidi and Derrick were running their first marathon, and were coming up to pass us. I was so glad to get to see them; I was there for their first half marathon, and was so proud they were now running a full.

I mentioned that Erin had not trained for this race. She made me promise to walk. At about mile eight, she said that at mile ten we were going to speed up and finish strong. What?! I let her know I was not speeding up; I just wanted to maintain and finish. She was welcome to take off, and it wouldn’t offend me in the least. I didn’t feel bad, but my legs were getting tired. She stayed with me until the last mile, and ended up finishing about two minutes before me. I know that she could have finished much faster if she hadn’t stuck with me for twelve miles. Erin ran a 10k at the end of September, and hadn’t run more than four miles since then. And she ran an entire half marathon. Without walking. Even though I wanted to not like her, I was beyond proud. I had tried to convince her to run a half marathon for a couple of years, and she didn’t think she could. She did…without training.

Race Bling!

Race Bling!

While I’d like to say we basked in the glory at the post-race festivities, we didn’t. We grabbed our medals, hats, and some chocolate milk, and because we were freezing the second we stopped running, we went right back to the hotel for hot showers. It was so cold, in fact, I didn’t even wait to watch Gary finish. I quickly showered and went to the lobby to wait for him to get back.

I must say, I felt better after this race than I usually do after running 13.1. I was tired and hungry (can’t-stop-eating hungry), but overall, I felt great. Today, the day after, the only issue I have is my right calf muscle hurts. And I still couldn’t stop eating. Last night I was already planning more races, and actually convinced my step-daughter to run a half with me in September 2015. And I would bet that Erin will be joining me for another race. Once a runner earns a medal, and experiences the thrill of crossing a finish line, she’s usually hooked. And if Erin could run as well as she did without training, imagine what she could do if she trained!

Run on, Friends!

Indy, Here We Come!

I just read through my last post in which I stated I would be blogging about my training for the half marathon. As you all know, sometimes life gets in the way. Between school, the gym, band contests, golf matches, and cooking and cleaning, there has been no time to just sit down and write. Now the race is five days away. Ready or not, Saturday I will cover 13.1 miles; with any luck I will be running all of it, but it is more likely that I will do a combination of running and walking with my niece. Honestly, this race isn’t about time; it’s about so much more.

This will be my niece Erin’s first half marathon. I have talked to her about running one for a couple of years, and for some unknown reason, she finally agreed. She hasn’t trained much at all, but because she is young, she’ll do just fine. Erin makes everything more fun. She has a quick wit and keeps us laughing. I feel very blessed to get to share this experience with her because I know it can be life-changing. There’s something about earning a medal – no matter how old we are – that makes us keep running.

About two weeks ago, I was looking at the Monumental Marathon website, and saw that I could sign up to raise money for St. Jude. I’ve never run a race for charity, so the challenge was instantly appealing. Because St. Jude had saved the life of our friend, Katie, it just felt right. I had no idea how much money I could raise, so I set my original goal at $500. I only had a couple of weeks, and I didn’t know if I could pull it off. As of this writing, I’ve raised $1050! My friends and family have been so generous, and it is so appreciated. Every penny goes to help a child fighting cancer. I was speaking to my brother today after he had donated in honor of his children, Emily and Evan. Evan has Down Syndrome, which can come with health problems, so they have spent time in children’s hospitals. As my brother stated, no one really understands how important those places are until he has a child there, and sees all the children who are fighting. What a blessing it is to have healthy children. Saturday I will don my St. Jude shirt and run in honor of those children who are battling cancer, who experience things no child should ever have to experience. Running 13.1 miles? That’s easy. Going through chemotherapy, getting stuck every single day, having multiple surgeries, fearing death…that’s not only difficult; it’s heartbreaking.

Hillary, dancer, age 20, b-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma

Hillary, dancer, age 20, b-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma

Each of the five previous half marathons I have completed, I have done for me. I’ve had goals such as beating a previous time or proving my doctor wrong. It’s always been about what I wanted to accomplish. This race is not about me. Will I be proud when I cross that finish line? Heck, yeah! But this race isn’t about what I want. It’s about sharing the experience with Erin and about running for St. Jude and Katie. Katie is one of the lucky ones. She beat cancer. Because Katie beat cancer, the children in our community are fortunate to have her for a teacher and coach. She has also been provided friendship and support for others who have battled or are continuing to fight. St. Jude calls the people who are running to raise money Heroes. I cannot accept that title. The kids of St. Jude are the heroes. I’m just a runner with great friends and family.

I read a blog recently in which a guy said how annoyed he is by 13.1 and 26.2 stickers on cars. He claimed that the only reason runners have them is to brag, and that we think we are better than everyone else because we ran that far. What an ass. He said that typically when one puts a sticker on his car, it is to show support for something, such as a school or their children’s sports. He claimed that our stickers are selfish. I have a 13.1 magnet on my car, and I am very proud of it. Do I think I am better than a non-runner or someone who sticks to shorter distances? Absolutely not. Running is not for everyone. Having that sticker is sort of a rite of passage for some runners. I have several friends who couldn’t wait to earn that sticker. We’ve worked our tails off, spent countless hours pounding the pavement, and sacrificed sleeping in, greasy food, and time with our families. We’ve suffered through injuries, physical therapy, sore muscles, and ugly feet. When I see those stickers on strangers’ cars, I feel an instant bond. Running is the most selfless sport I know of. I have never been around a more supportive group of people than when I am at a race. Fellow runners cheer as loudly for the last runner as they do for the first; actually; sometimes they cheer louder. We all have different paces, and no one looks down upon slower runners. We help one another, listen to each other’s troubles, and support one another until the bitter end. Many people run for charity or share their love of running with children by volunteering at running groups. So, if my 13.1 magnet annoys anyone, just don’t look at it. You can look at my Purdue plate instead!

For the next four days, I must drink plenty of water, avoid too much candy (I can’t avoid it all), and get a couple of short runs in. Friday we head for Indy to meet my niece. If you want to donate to St. Jude, here’s the link:

http://fundraising.stjude.org/site/TR?px=2902756&fr_id=21100&pg=personal

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This is Hayli. She is one year old and is battling leukemia.

Run Happy!