Overreach?

I sit down to write this after sleeping until almost noon Thursday. I get up to do dishes from the previous night, eat something, take a shower. Then, I’m so tired, I go back to bed for a nap.

Perhaps a little back story is in order:

Monday marks the 10th day since I started running to prepare for the Bay to Breakers, so I decide that I will try running two miles instead of one. It’s two laps around the outermost ring at the Polo Field in Golden Gate Park. I huff and puff, but I make it. I remember a time when I could run 8 of those laps with little trouble, but that was decades ago.

Monday is also the day before my daughter Erin turns 10. She requests that we make blue, peppermint marshmallows, not cupcakes, for her to take to her class on the big day. We made these marshmallows a few years ago, in red, for Christmas teacher treats. It was an interesting culinary fugue of thin sugar candy heated to the “hardball” stage, gelatin and egg whites, a kitchen chemistry miracle. It worked on the first try.

Of course, a few years ago, I did not depend so pathetically on reading glasses. This time, we try to do two batches at once. One batch of candy hardens too quickly. When we add it to the egg whites with the gelatin, we get egg fluff with sugar rocks. The other batch looks fluffy, but has a grainy “mouth feel.”

The kitchen looks like the Cat in the Hat has come to play, splashing gelatin, blue sugar syrup and egg whites all over the white cabinets and counter tops. We clean up, and I go off to the store to buy more gelatin (and store-bought cupcakes, just in case). We try a third batch. Drat. The marshmallows are still crunchy.

Then, I put my reading glasses on, and realize that we’ve been trying to dissolve the candy sugar in a quarter cup of water, not three-quarters of a cup. Kitchen chemistry isn’t really miraculous, it’s chemistry. With enough water to dissolve the sugar, the fourth batch works. By this time, it’s almost 10 p.m. We haven’t had dinner. By the time we all get to sleep, it’s ridiculously past everyone’s bedtime.

Ten-year-old Erin goes off to school with both marshmallows and cupcakes. I go to the Breast Care Center for a follow-up appointment. It’s nearly three weeks since the last chemo.

Tara, one of Dr. Rugo’s nurse practitioners, asks me how I’m doing. I tell her I’m feeling better every day, but I’m still tired. The red rings under my eyes are fading; my hair is thinner than before chemo but I’m grateful that most of it is still there. I appreciate a normalizing gastrointestinal tract as never before. I mention the Bay-to-Breakers goal and the running. I say I’d like to start working again soon, maybe in a few weeks?

Tara says that I need to slow down. She’s not sure I should be running. She says that if I’d been running regularly just before diagnosis, that would be one thing but that it might be too much of strain now. Cycling and rollerblading don’t use the same muscles; running a 12K is a big goal.

She does a quick graph of my expected energy trajectory between now and May 15, Bay-to-Breakers race day. From February 10, end of chemo, the line goes up, until March 8, surgery day, then the line goes down sharply. Post-re-excision, it then rises gradually for about a month, until early April. Then comes radiation, energy plateaus for the first four weeks, then plummets for the last two weeks.

“See?” Tara says, making a big, low “X” at mid-May. “Your lowest energy will come at just about the same time as the Bay-to-Breakers. I don’t want to crush your dreams, but I don’t want you to set yourself up for failure either. The running may drain so much of your energy that you don’t have the reserves that you need to heal. There will come a time when it will be appropriate to diet and to really get back into shape. We’ll be there with you when that time comes, but it’s not yet.

“I’d be a lot happier if you didn’t run more than three times a week. What I want you to be doing is getting outside every day. I want you to walk every day. You like hiking over in Marin by your daughter’s school, right? Do that. Why don’t you think about walking the Bay-to-Breakers, not running it? And even so, I think you should have someone on call who can come pick you up if you crash halfway through the course. Maybe you can go just to the Panhandle [three miles into the race] not all the way to the beach [about seven miles].”

I nod, as I suppose an obedient patient should. Tara is wise to me, though. She has gotten to know me well enough to conclude, corrrectly, that obedience is not my strong suit. She can tell that I am not thrilled to hear all this.

“You’re a person that responds to goals. You take things on, that’s what make you likable,” Tara says. “But if you’re so tired from running that you can’t be there for your family, that you’re grumpy, that your health suffers, that doesn’t make any sense. You’re in a lull right now, a rest period, and that’s great. You should enjoy this time. But remember you’re still in active treatment. That has to be your priority.”

I tell Tara that I’ll think long and hard about what she’s saying. Then I go home and completely ignore her advice.

Erin has requested a turkey dinner for her birthday meal. From the time I get home from my oncology appointment, I do not sit down. Even with much-needed help from my stepdaughter Maureen, in town for an informational session at the UCSF nursing school, there’s too much to do: The birthday cake must be baked, and the homemade frosting whipped. I think briefly about buying Betty Crocker frosting, then decide against it. Notice the connection to marshmallows and the Bay-to-Breakers? Then there’s turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans etc. We get to bed around midnight. I have a bit of chemo/insta-menopause insomnia and don’t get to sleep until 3 a.m.

Wednesday, I am such a wreck that I can barely string two sentences together coherently.

Thursday, as mentioned, I sleep till midday. I think a lot about Tara’s advice. I also think about going for a jog. I’m caught between the yin and the yang of realistic/healthy and gonzo/healthy. To tell the truth, it’s a toss-up right now. The scary part is, I really don’t think I’m the one who gets to decide. My body will do that for me.

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About leftbreast

I have had breast cancer. I was diagnosed at 47, and am now 49. I have finished "active treatment," two surgeries, chemo, radiation, monoclonal antibodies. These days, I only take a drug to suppress my uptake of estrogen, since my tumor was highly reactive to that hormone. I have been married to my husband Pete for 21 years. I have a stepdaughter, Maureen, 30, and a daughter, Erin, 10. I've been a freelance magazine journalist for 20-plus years, covering everything from Chinese foreign policy to Catholic nuns to endangered species. I have had a great life. I have lived in Asia and all over the United States. I have spent nights with tree-sitters in Oregon and with astronomers at the Mauna Kea observatory in Hawaii. I've been to a cocktail party on the poopdeck of a British destroyer docked in Shanghai. I've taken the bus to Tibet, and tramped through the cloud forests of Panama with biologists. A magazine sent me on a raft trip down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon; another sent me to cooking school for a week. I have spent time with celebrities, presidents and heroin dealers. I love my work. I have a loving, supportive family and more friends than I probably deserve. I have had the space and time to camp, ski, cycle, garden, cook and spoil my pets (an Australian shepherd, a German shepherd and a tabby cat). If it all ended tomorrow, I would have to say that it has been a really, really good ride. When I was in thick of treatment, I was simply fighting for more time. Now, I'm trying to connect the experience of cancer with the rest of my life, with the time that's been won. I hope the cancer never comes back, but if it does, I'll be ready. That's what this blog is about.
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