sisterhood

My first marathon was an impulsive decision I made in my 20’s before my frontal lobe was fully developed. Since that first marathon, I have run a total of 5 marathons and was celebrating a conscious uncoupling from marathons for the past 10 years.

The first time I ran a marathon

  • iPhones did not exist
  • Texting was fancy
  • I listened to music on an MP3 (because the iPod was a passing fad)
  • I had 2 weeks to train.

I was a young mom with three babies, 4-years old and under. I had survived three high-risk pregnancies with three healthy girls and was a trainer in a gym. I was living the miracle and felt a little invincible.

I had two weeks to train. I had no idea I was even on Heartbreak Hill during the marathon.  I decided that when you are not running really fast it does not matter as much. I did not know how many miles was in an actual marathon.  There was no “search engine” to fully understand what a marathon entails. My training was a 9 mile run the weekend before and a chat with an experienced runner on the bus ride to Hopkinton. That bus ride probably saved me a trip to the hospital that day.  Who knew those water stations were important?

Currently, at 44 my life and legs have changed.  My girls are calling me excited about their college classes.  My father is not available to get nervous about my crazy life choices. And, my life has helped prepare me for this marathon.   I made the decision to run this time for, Cal, my running motivation.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VqvZabxJHqs

The training was going great until July. I had to take a month off because of weakness in my left leg and the summer heat.  Today I finally felt strong enough to run a solid distance.  It takes a lot of planning for me to run that distance, now.  I don’t understand how my body works but with a fully developed frontal lobe, I am very careful.

I decided to add caffeine to my life again and only drink one cup of tea before my run. I am still intermittent fasting which means it has to be timed perfectly in the day.  I am trying to add more yoga to my schedule. Today I crushed my 10 miles in under 90 minutes and was able to work a full day, walk the dogs, bathe the dogs, fold laundry and clean my house(“clean” might be a generous description of my house..cleaner is more appropriate).

I am thrilled that I hit my goal this morning and I am ready for next week. My goal is 11 miles.

 

 

There was a time in my life that every time I faced some bad news I would say “At least it’s not…fill in the blank.”  And life kept filling in the blank.  I stopped using that sentence as coping mechanism, because it became a painful foreshadowing.

So three years ago, when a medical test sent me to my couch for the day I decided to take it as the opportunity to watch a long list of sad stories with a large bag of chocolate. I figured that watching other people’s pain would help me see my life’s blessings.   I started with some Dr. Phil and giggled at those amateurs. I moved to a cancer movie with Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  When he used his disease to pick up ladies, I didn’t laugh. He ended up in a great relationship with a gorgeous girlfriend and his family came together as a team to support him. The pinnacle was when I watched the Piano and started to cry when I realized that this Holocaust victim had a talent and hope for the future, that I couldn’t see for my own.

When you spend a day watching sad movies and can’t find a storyline as difficult as your life it can be eye-opening.  I decided to write my own happy ending with my life’s new screenplay and had to stop waiting for my wishes to come true. My three years was a long painful uphill battle, but it felt like it was working.

In September, I came out of running retirement for my niece, Callie, and the foundation that will save children with her disease.  A disease in the same family as my MS. The run was challenging because of the distance and the unique humidity.  It was poetic that an invisible obstacle weighed me down. My shoes and clothes became a weight  that the world couldn’t see but it impacted every one of my steps.  I remember feeling like that humidity was similar to the white matter disease that changed the course of my life three years ago. My shoes were so wet it took days to dry and there was never a drop of rain that day.

It was an emotional journey and with every step, I changed.  I started the run with a sprint and  by the end, there was no gas left in my tank.  We were writing our own happy ending that day and sometimes that takes everything you have and even the hidden reserves.  My damaged spine and sick legs helped me raise over $6,000 in 88 days and carried me for 13.1 miles.  It wasn’t my fastest run but it was the most effort, because of my niece and the money we raised.  It was those quiet notes and gentle hugs from my new community.  Those lovely people that made sure I crushed my fundraising goal. Those beautiful people that helped me write a new happy ending. My happy ending did not grant me any of the wishes that I dreamed of on that couch.  Callie is not cured and I can’t visit with my dad in this new reality.  My happy ending has a new landscape filled with new characters and some of the best original characters.

Many people were worried how the training and run might take a toll on my health. I admit it was in the back of mind.  I was worried the extra physical stress would lead to a flare up.  I had a stressful summer managing my daughters, working and training.  My hair was not brushed during this time and I was close to having dreadlocks.

After my run, I missed my regular six-month neurology appointment because of my commitment to the fundraiser.  I was able to schedule a new appointment right away and I had a doctors appointment that seemed unimaginable from that couch.  My husband, doctors and I were giddy with the results.  The young fellow took notes about my recent half marathon and was shocked with my time.  He tried to do the math and asked if I ran a 10-minute mile.  When I told him it was around an 8:30-minute mile, he was shocked. I passed every physical test with flying colors. I felt like a gifted Kindergartner reading Harry Potter in front of the class on the first day of school.  The fellow referred to my disease as subtle and my husband joked that was the only subtle thing about me.  My husband and I celebrated our hard work over a quiet cup of tea and cookie.   It was a great day that I won’t soon forget.

Soon after during a short celebration, I had an unimaginable stressor pop-up in my life.  And in one day my legs didn’t work.  I didn’t sleep well and had a hard time walking the next day.  Those legs that carried me for 13.1 miles and helped me raise money, stopped working.  MS is a mystery, but for me it became clear.

It took me a long time to get back on track.  I followed some simple rules to rediscover my happy ending.

Eliminate Stress – I utilize “block caller” on my iPhone.  I go for a run or yoga class when  I need a mental break from life.  I ignore obligations and make selfish choices.

Nutrition- This one is tough to get started but easy when I am in entrenched in the plan. No processed food, no artificial sweeteners, no dairy, lots of water, healthy fats, and food tracking.

Workouts- I committed to moving every day.  My plan for fitness is a priority in my life. Moving when my body hurts is counterintuitive but it works.

 

 

 

On Sunday, September 18th, I will be running the Philadelphia Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon. It’s not my first race, or even my toughest one, but it might be the one that it is the most meaningful. I am racing for my niece and goddaughter, 6 year old Calliope Carr. Cal and I share the same birthday, December 23rd, and a devastating diagnosis. At the age of 40, with three young daughters, I learned that I had MS and that same year Cal was diagnosed with leukodystrophy. Leukodystrophy and MS are both white matter diseases. In these past four years, Cal has lost the ability to walk, talk, and eat. She receives hospice care. Since my diagnosis, I have fought to regain a sort of balance and reclaim control of my body. With determination, hard work, and the support of my family, I have fought my way back and am in the best shape of my life. I am ready to run, and I want to raise $5,000 to help kids with leukodystrophy.  These funds will support pioneering research that will help find a cure for leukodystrophies in a decade.  

It is not a great time to be adding  anything to my life.  Sending three girls to college within four years of each other was bad planning on my part twenty years ago.  Working full time in multiple positions has been taxing on my mind and body.  In addition, my MS moved forward without my permission.  This numbness in my feet that only disappeared after two miles into each run even in the summer, was the disease-not the cold New England weather.  I also discovered at my last neurology appointment that the unexplained pain in my jaw that had sent me to multiple dentists was Trigeminal Nueralgia.  When my Dr. said that some patients felt it was as painful as childbirth I said, “That sounds about right.”  I have also been feeling the heat.  My skin feels like it is on fire at times, especially this extra hot summer.

So today, I went for a run and ignored my feet because my legs still work.  I am lucky that there was no pain in my jaw when my alarm went off at 5 am. And, I am thankful we are out of a heat wave today. 

So why did I jump into this project and come out of race retirement? This spring, as we were quickly approaching the 4th anniversary of Cal’s diagnosis, I was reminded of phone calls from my sister four years ago.  Those phone calls have changed on both sides as both of our tragedies have progressed.

Four years ago, I realized that when someone you love is going through hell words are cheap.  I learned that I don’t know how she feels and her pain can not be my God’s plan.  I learned that I can not carry her load or give her a break from suffering.   I learned that this is her journey and I am just watching from the sidelines.  I have gone to her numerous charity events and cried.  Although I consider myself a beast in my life, standing in her corner makes me painfully weak, but I refuse to leave that corner.

This spring, my regular phone calls and texts were met with dead silence.   I kept reaching out to my sister but she would not call me back or respond to my texts.  She finally called me back and confessed that the typical conversation starter, “How are you?” is the most painful question when you are in the midst of a tragedy.  When you love someone all you want to do is help, but offering to help is just a waste of words. I made the decision to not talk about helping and do something.  

Honestly,  I did not always appreciate my big sister.  Growing up, I found her strength and conviction incredibly annoying. We were five years apart and she was Marcia Brady. I can still remember a bottle of Jean Nate’ she had received as a gift that she never opened and allowed to collect dust on her bureau for years.  I desperately wanted to crack open that bottle and become Farrah Fawcett with one Jean Nate’ bath.  I sat and watched that bottle go unused while she was busy participating in yearbook, French club, Latin club and more.  I am not sure all those clubs even existed but I did hear her drone on about all her activities. In high school, I refused to join any clubs as a way to rebel against the establishment.  I hated to conform to what anyone in our town expected from its high performing students.  Yes, I was a pisser and owe my parents a big fat apology.  So, while that bottle was never opened, and eventually disappeared when she went to college, it represented our differences.  I never understood my big sister and when people would tell me how great she was I couldn’t hide my surprise.   

My 80’s obsession

We were polar opposites growing up, but we have both changed and grown closer with time.  Even so, I am convinced that she would not open that bottle of Jean Nate’ and I would feather my hair and wear a red swimsuit with that bottle, no question.  

However today her determination is no longer annoying as I witness the beauty in her resilience.

When Maria started the Calliope Joy Foundation years ago, I came up with the idea to have a 5K in the Fall to raise funds. She was all on board until she came up with Cal’s Cupcake Challenge . Of course my sister would pick an event all about sugar and nix my run.  I love my sister, and her idea was brilliant. All plans for my run were dropped immediately and my sister redirected her focus on making her new goal a reality. In the past four years she has made Marcia Brady look like a slacker.   (Read her blog post about it: Four years later)

On September 18th, I will finally get to run for Callie and for my big sister. My MS has progressed, Cal’s disease has progressed, and both our lives have become more stressful. It will never be a good time to take on a new project, but it is time to make this run happen. When my sister and I speak, instead of asking the normal questions that have become too painful to answer, we discuss running jerseys and fundraising.   

I know you get asked to donate to many causes, but I need your help.  I have learned that every charity event is not about the t-shirt or food at the end of the race. Those names on the running shirts have meaning.  There is a smile, laugh and story that belongs to each name.  I will now begin every charity run with a little prayer.  I will pray for the name on the shirt, because they are so very special.  I will pray for the people that organized the race, because they’re hurting. I will pray for the strength to make a difference because this life is too short.

Please join me in supporting The Calliope Joy Foundation by donating or joining me on the run.  I’m hoping my sweat will be hiding my tears on that day.  I wish I could be stronger in front of my sister, but no matter what, I am in awe of my sister’s strength and Cal’s beauty. 

Although I will be weak from standing in my sister’s corner, I plan on PR’ing on this run, and hope that you can join me in supporting this tremendous cause.  I need your help to fill the streets of Philly with sweat drenched cupcake shirts and Cal’s name. We need runners for the 5K on September 17th or the Half Marathon on September 18th.

Join Team Cupcake

If you can’t join me on the run, please consider donating

Please donate here