2 weeks completed, now it’s time for another amazing vacation ;) …

It was only about 2 weeks ago, that I was blogging about how my first week at my new job going. Since then, so much has occurred. My first 2 weeks at the gynecology office had gone really well. My coworkers were great and it felt amazing to be in the workforce again. However, traveling was proving to be a little tougher than I had anticipated it would be. I was finding myself spending anywhere from 2-3 hours of my day, driving to and from work. I didn’t think it would be such an issue considering I had traveled long distances before for work, but it was really starting to wear me down. Luckily, I had planned a vacation prior to starting my new job and it would serve as a good break for me to recuperate.

It was August 16th, when we hopped on a plan heading to San Francisco, California. I was super excited to embark on another new journey. This time I was doing a spiritual retreat in Mount Shasta. I honestly didn’t think much of it at first. I just knew we would be hiking, meditating, and doing some yoga. That alone was a great vacation in my book.

Our flight from Ft Lauderdale, Florida to San Francisco, California was 6 hours long, and Mount Shasta was a good 5 hours away from San Francisco.

And we've arrived to San Francisco!! :D
And we’ve arrived to San Francisco!! πŸ˜€
Time to hit the road and make our way to Mt Shasta :)
Time to hit the road and make our way to Mt Shasta πŸ™‚

For the record, I would recommend arriving in Sacramento or Redding, California instead. It will easily cut the drive time in half. If you don’t have that option, plan to stay the night in San Francisco and drive up the next morning. You’ll be happy you did.

Upon arriving at the lovely Mt Shasta Bed & Breakfast, we checked in, I placed my bags on the room floor and passed out like a baby after a heavy meal.

The next day, I showered up and made my way to the dining room where breakfast was served daily to all of the house guests. There, we slowly began to meet some of the individuals that were also partaking in the spiritual retreat. They were all very sweet and pleasant to talk with. Each with a unique background and wealth of information. As much as I enjoy being a social butterfly and talking to others, I found myself happily listening to each conversation, eager to learn more about the people I would be spending the next 7 days with.

Later that morning, we explored the town a bit and decided to rent some mountain bikes. The sun was out and there was a cool breeze in the air. With the view of the beautiful mountains surrounding us, it was hard to deny myself the desire to ride again. We mounted our bikes and cruised through the city and eventually made our way to lake siskiyou. It was so beautiful to see a big lake surrounded by such a majestic mountain. When I took a closer look, I could see the locals swimming and canoeing, while others played fetch with theirs dogs. In that moment, I began to feel grounded again. The fast pace of the city was drowned out by the nature all around me. I could have stayed there all day, only we had to return the bikes to the store and make our way back to the bed & breakfast for our first group meeting.

Lake Siskiyou :)
Lake Siskiyou πŸ™‚
Me+My bike+lake siskiyou= awesomeness!!! :D
Me+My bike+lake siskiyou= awesomeness!!! πŸ˜€

Andrew, our group leader, and his partner in crime Lauren, welcomed us and gathered us into a circle. One by one, we were asked to introduce ourselves and express to the group why we were there. In other words, what did we expect to get from the retreat. I was honestly looking forward to some time off. However, when it was my turn to speak, the most natural explanation to leave my mouth was, “Since being diagnosed with breast cancer, I’ve wanted to stress less about the little things in life and focus more on living my life and my true purpose”. I can’t recall if I worded it just so, but it’s pretty close to what I remember saying. I don’t even know where the words came from. I hadn’t met any of these people before, and here I was, sharing such a personal experience without flinching a muscle. I have blogged about it, yes, but never have I spoken to such a large group of people about it. In that moment I knew that this “vacation” was going to provide me with more than just time to meditate, hike, and do yoga. I was going to continue my growth in a way I had been longing to for some time and I look forward to sharing my experience with you all…

Stay tuned,
Elizabeth πŸ™‚

A few weeks into radiation…

I was starting to wrap things up at work when I looked at my watch and realized I needed head over for my daily radiation treatment. I had grown more and more excited about going with each day that passed. Not only was I one day closer to finishing, I was also meeting some really nice people along the way. To my relief, I hadn’t been experiencing any pains or serious burns either. I had started mountain biking again and was even feeling confident about running the half marathon with my partner. It was only a week or so away and I couldn’t have been happier about it. I really couldn’t understand why I had read stories of so many people having such a terrible time.

To my surprise however, shortly after those couple of weeks, my energy level did start to decline and my left breast had become inflamed and extremely painful. It began to interfere with my work, sports, sleep, and was wearing me out emotionally. I had tried several over the counter creams to help alleviate the burning and itching but nothing worked. I eventually mentioned it to the radiation oncologist during my weekly check up. She suspected the possibility of my having mastitis of the left breast and prescribed me an antibiotic along with Β a cream to help with the itching and burning of the skin. Within a couple of days I was starting to feel a difference in the amount of pain and swelling I felt but, I was still tired and worn out emotionally.

Psychologically, I had reached my max. I know it sounds crazy, but I would compare the way I felt to the feeling you get after eating a meal to fast. Think about it, you eat really quickly, ignoring your stomach’s chemical signal telling you to stop. You than realize you ate way more than you could handle and now you’ve given yourself a stomachache. That’s how I felt. I had filled my emotional storage space to its max without even picking up on its distress signals and was officially on overload.

During my previous episodes of emotional ups and downs, my radiation oncologist had suggested the use of an antidepressant. I refused it, feeling that it would be a symbol of my weakness and inability to balance my emotions on my own. I wanted to prove to myself that I didn’t need medication to do that. I had already been down that route years ago and had found a better way to cope with my stress through running and staying active. I remember asking myself, ” If there were other people out there that got through this without medication, why should I be any different?” I now realize that, not only was I comparing myself to other people , adding unnecessary pressure, I also wasn’t considering everything else going on in my life that made me feel so off balance. I was leaving my job after more than 11 years. I was moving away to another city leaving my family and friends behind. These were major life changes I was going through, all while juggling everything that came with having had cancer.

I continued on this slippery slope, hoping I could wake up one day feeling different but I never did. The closer I got to finishing my treatments and moving away from everything I knew, the more anxious and depressed I became. Going to my treatments was like a safe haven for me. I felt like cancer couldn’t come back while I was being treated and I feared what would happen when it was all over. I could no longer focus on work, family or my relationship with these thoughts clouding my brain. I wasn’t even enjoying my running and biking anymore. It was then I realized I was in over my head and agreed to take an antidepressant which turned out to be the best decision I could have ever made…

Stay tuned,
Elizabeth πŸ™‚

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My athletic desires…

I wasn’t ready to jump on the bike or go for a run but, I was determined to start setting goals and accomplishing them during my two weeks of recovery. I didn’t want to just lay in bed doing absolutely nothing. I was an athlete. Prior to my journey with breast cancer I had a very active lifestyle. I had run several 5k’s, a 10k, 2 half marathons, completed a metric century, started mountain biking, and in September had just done my first triathlon. My next goal was to run a marathon.

It wasn’t about exercising to be skinny, it was a lifestyle. I was addicted to the adrenaline I felt after each race and training session but, most of all I enjoyed the amazing people that I met along the way. I had developed an extended family and I missed them. I also missed the outdoors and how healthy and energized my body felt. What I had been feeling in that moment was so foreign and uncomfortable. I needed to find that place again so, I did what every athlete does, started setting goals.

It wasn’t anything drastic but it was a start. My main goal was to regain the range of motion I had lost in my left arm. I could barely lift it to wash my own hair so after about three days of recovery that’s what I tackled first. I found the shower to be the perfect place to start my therapies because the warm water would loosen my muscles enough for me to start stretching. My first goal was to get my arm up high enough to wash my hair comfortably. It had been days since I had been able to do this on my own.

I started by placing my hand on the shower wall and using my finger tips to slowly climb up while bringing my body closer to the wall. Most people refer to this technique as the “wall climb”. Β It allows the muscles located in the area of the armpit to stretch out. It was very difficult and I admit painful at first but I progressed quickly and before I knew it only days had passed and I was finally able to wash my own hair. “Yes, I did it!” Seems like a silly thing to feel so excited about but, you’d be surprised with the things we take for granted when they come so easily.

The next goal I tackled was brushing my hair. I’m not a lefty but I wasn’t able to lift much weight at the time and I thought using my left hand to brush my unruly curly hair would be a good way to use a bit of force without injuring myself. This too helped with my range of motion. I started doing the wall climbs outside of the shower to allow my muscles to stretch without the assistance of heat and began working on reaching up over my head and bringing my hand as far down my back as I could. I was shocked to see how little I could do when I had always been more flexible on that side.

I used the assistance of a small towel to help me get to my desired goal of reaching my hand right into the space between my shoulder blades. In order to do this I would grab the towel with my left hand, raise it above my head and bend my elbow enough to allow the towel to hang on my backside. I would then place my right hand on my lower back, grab the towel and slowly pull it down bringing my left hand closer to my goal.

It was tough and in all honesty there were moments I wanted to give up because it just seemed so easy yet I was struggling so much. I felt like I was starting from the very beginning after having come so far. Everyone around me was progressing at incredible speeds in their prospective sport and here I was taking baby steps to perform the simplest tasks. I had to constantly remind myself how far I had already come within a week and that it wasn’t going to be like this forever.

I was reaching my goals, big or small, and I needed to stop being so hard on myself. I was able to brush and wash my own hair, I was reaching for things in the pantry and making myself food. That’s something I couldn’t do before. I was accomplishing what I set out to do and soon enough I would be the athlete I once was.

While achieving my physical goals however, I was also facing another struggle. One I chose to ignore from the start of my journey. It was during those two weeks of my recovery that the emotions I had hidden for so long exposed themselves and I was forced to meet face to face with a side of myself I never wanted to encounter…

Stay tuned,
Elizabeth πŸ™‚