Sunday, January 28, 2018

Long Overdue Update

This post was originally a 6 month update & I wrote most of it but never finished it.  With that said it's now been 9 months since I finished radiation for breast cancer.  In my 3 month update I was recovering from a bad case of pneumonia.  The recovery took a full 12 weeks to feel mostly normal again in every day life but I am still building up my fitness levels.

I had another follow up CT scan & pulmonary visit in early October.  For the most part my pneumonia is cleared, my radiation pneumonitis is improving but I continue to have pulmonary infiltrates.  Each of the 3 CT scans have shown a spot but each month the spot is in a different location. In order to rule out any other funk they did a full blood work up.  They took 7 vials of blood plus a urine sample to check for a litany of things including, TB, histoplasmosisCBC levelsfungalC-Reactive ProteinANAANCAstronglyloides & sedimentation rates.  Thankfully all came back negative.

In November & December I had follow ups with the Radiation Oncologist, Pulmonary doc & my first mammogram since treatment ended. The Radiation Oncologist appointment was uneventful. One last checkup & then I was officially released.  The Pulmonary doc had good news as well.  My last CT scan after Thanksgiving finally came back clear. No more pneumonia, no more infiltrates but all clear! I then went for my first mammogram since treatment. As usual for me, it showed something they want to follow but the results fell in the 'probably benign, come back in 6 months.'  So all in all, really good news.  It took a year but I am finally fully recovered and now able to focus on getting my fitness back.

Prior to pneumonia I had signed up for the Gobbler Half Marathon on November 18th.  During the summer I had written off being able to run the half.  I was thinking I would back down to the 10k.  As I started to feel better I decided to hold off switching distances & just let the training tell me what distance to run.

Seen During Arboretum Run
As of early October my long run was up to 7 miles.  I was doing run / walk intervals of 1 minute run / 4 minutes walk. I can't remember at what point I decided to drop down to the 10K but I eventually made that call and was glad I did.  It took the pressure off & allowed me to enjoy some of my other favorite activities.

In addition to running, I have got back on my bike a few times.

First Post Pneumonia Ride
We also got in a couple of paddles and good hikes in the gorge.

Captain Sammie - Kentucky & Dix Rivers

Mallard Point SUP
Steve's Birthday Hike to Courthouse Rock

Another Red River Gorge Hike
Hike at Big Bone Lick State Park
(Photo credit Mary Henson)
After a fun filled fall the Gobbler kicked off the holiday running season.  This year didn't disappoint!

Gobbler 10K

Turkey Trot 5K in Kansas City - Day 1 Run Streak
Frankfort Frosty 5K

Reindeer Ramble 10K

West 6th Holiday Run
New Years Day 2018 - Day 40 Run Streak
2017 was a rough year health wise and I am grateful to have all of that behind me. As we are wrapping up January, I am now half way through my training plan for the Lucky Leprechaun 10 Miler on March 10th.  

I must say it feels really good to get back to normal!

Sunday, July 30, 2017


Back in March I started the 2 week test to eliminate sugar & processed foods.  My main goal was to eliminate the garbage prior to starting radiation for breast cancer.   After the test I started to add some foods back into my daily diet.  Mostly fruits & a few whole grains.  I still stayed away from added sugars & processed foods.

Several weeks after finishing the test I decided to start tracking my daily food intake on My Fitness Pal.  I was curious to know how many calories I was eating plus I wanted to know my macro breakdown. I was still eating high fat foods which mentally was hard since I was raised in the 80's during the low fat era.  After a few weeks of tracking I was on average eating about 1500-1800 calories per day & my macro breakdown was as follows: Carbs 30-35%, Fat 45-55% & Protein 15-20%.  This was in the mid-May time frame.  Overall, I was feeling really good health wise & feeling satisfied with my meals.  I was starting to wonder how this way of eating would hold up long term & if it was sustainable as I started to add in longer workouts.

About this time Swim Bike Mom started advertising a new nutrition program she was rolling out with Dina Griffin, a Registered Dietitian & certified MET Specialist, called Optimal Thrive.  Dina works with Bob Seebohar in Colorado.  When I first started triathlon in 2009, Bob came to Lexington to discuss his book about eating metabolically efficient to train your body to be a fat burner instead of a sugar burner.  I knew of several folks that bought the book & implemented this way of eating.  At the time I was just trying to figure out the sport & didn't bother too much with my nutrition.  Fast forward 8 years, hearing SBM was offering this on-line program I was very interested.  The timing was spot on since I had just finished the 2 week test & was looking for direction on how to move forward.  The first Optimal Thrive session began on June 1st. 

Optimal Thrive started out as a 5 week session but they extended a couple weeks during the program so folks could have more time grasping the material.  The format was good.  It was exclusively on a Facebook private group.  No emails. They would send out via Facebook a few worksheets a week. They would have a Q&A thread every Friday.  They also had a meal thread where everyone in the program could add photos / recipes of their meal wins.  There were weekly Live videos with Dina & 2 or 3 Webinars with both Meredith & Dina throughout the program.

About the worksheets - there were a total of 21 worksheets over the program.  So not daily but several times per week.  The essence of the worksheets were to teach you the principles of eating Metabolically Efficient & to give you the tools on how to implement into your life.  The worksheets were not a weekly meal plan telling you what & when to eat. A few recipes were given but not a book of recipes.  A few examples were given on how different athletes should eat for their day but not a slew of meal plans.

In a nutshell, how this program was run can be summarized with this famous quote: "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."  Personally, I loved it. I rather have the tools to understand the why I am doing what I am doing then just being told what to do.  You need to understand this is how the program is run because some folks don't want to or are not ready to think. They just want to be told what to do.  Sometimes, you need to slow down & learn the basics.

Since starting the 2 week test I am down over 10 pounds and 17 inches in my thighs, hips & waist. My deep sleep has improved significantly, I will talk more about that later in this post.  I am still waiting to get healthy to see how my energy levels are & how this way of eating works with longer workouts.

Below is a typical day meals:

Breakfast: Green Smoothie - Almond milk, Tera's Whey protein powder, spinach, carrots, almond butter or plain greek yogurt, frozen banana & berries or Veggie & Meat Omelette.

Green Smoothie

Omelette, Bacon & Sprouted Rye Toast
Lunch: Spinach or Cabbage Salad with sweet peppers, carrots, almonds, pumpkin seeds, cheese & some kind of meat - grilled chicken, tuna, turkey.  Either olive oil & balsamic vinegar or organic ranch dressing

Cabbage Salad
Dinner: Grilled Zucchini/Summer Squash & green beans, grilled chicken with peanut sauce

Grilled Corn & Summer Squash
Snacks: Fruit & string cheese, almonds/cashews/pistachios, veggies & hummus

The other thing I have been doing since being sick is listening to podcasts on health & nutrition. A couple things I recently introduced into my diet is Kombucha & Apple Cider Vinegar.  This is to combat the damage the 3 weeks of antibiotics did to my system.  Both are said to help to rebalance the good stuff in your gut.  Kombucha is definitely an acquired taste. I have been drinking 1/2 - 1 serving per day.  The first thing I noticed is that it gave me an immediate burst of energy.  The first time I drank it was after my first day back to work after pneumonia.  I was drained from the day.  After drinking 1 serving I immediately felt perked up.  I had similar results the next day. I even got Steve drinking it & to my surprise he really likes it.  I have been drinking it for a week now & my belly feels a lot better.  Steve had similar comments.  It's not cheap, about $1.50 - $2 per serving.  There are a ton of flavors & brands so we have been trying different ones.  Even Target has their own brand but be careful theirs has added sugar. So far our favorite is Traders Joe's Pink Lady Apple at $4 per bottle.

This is our favorite so far - Trader Joe's
They even make some with Chia seeds.  If you are not familiar with Chia & what they do in liquid, think bubble tea. If you like Chia seeds, this one is good as well. I have drank about 4 ounces a day & haven't noticed any energy boost like I did with the Trilogy & Pink Lady.  It is also higher in calories because of the Chia seeds.  Personally, I will skip the Chia ones in the future.  Not that they taste bad but because of the calories & no noticeable benefits.

Grape Chia
I will continue to try new flavors & possibly do a post in the future.  For now, read THIS post regarding reviews of Kombucha for a giggle. The first one we tried was the 2nd one in her post, Synergy Enlightened Trilogy.  Like I said, it's an acquired taste but we were able to drink it with relative ease.

On of the benefits since starting the 2 week test is my sleep quality is off the charts compared to before I started the 2 week test.  My average deep sleep went from 3.5 hours per night to almost 6 hours per night. I wonder if that will hold up after getting healthy, fully back to work & working out again.

One of the podcasts I am listening to is Bulletproof.  I pick up one of his books, Head Strong, at the library this week. One thing that really jumped out to me on page 232 is about sleepy snacks.  "If you wake up between three & five AM and can't go back to sleep, it's often because your blood sugar is dipping during the night, causing a cortisol spike, which wakes you up."  Holy crap!  This used to happen to me EVERY night. I would wake up between 2 & 3 every night, toss & turn, for a couple of hours.  After I finished the 2 week test, my deep sleep improved by about an hour a night.  After finishing the Optimal Thrive program & recovering from pneumonia it has improved an additional hour.  Last week, my deep sleep average was 5 hours, 40 minutes which is up from 3 hours 28 minutes in mid February.

So yeah, I am very curious to see if this trend continues after I am fully over the pneumonia & back to my normal way of living.

Speaking of normal way of living....I am 4 weeks into my pneumonia recovery.  Yesterday was the first day that I felt I had good energy & could join the group for a walk.  It was slow but I managed 2 miles around the Arboretum.  It felt great to be out.  It helped the weather was perfect.

First Post Pneumonia Walk
Today I finally was able to join the weekly free Yoga at Ashland.  Again, the temperature & humidity were perfect. It feels so good to move the body.
Outdoor Yoga is the BEST
Tomorrow I go back to the Pulmonary doctor for a follow up.  I am hoping to be able to ease back into the Livestrong program this week.  I have no intention of running or biking until after I see my follow up CT scan on 8/21. I am going to ask the doc about swimming.  It would be nice to get a few more swims in during August.

Stay healthy, y'all!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

3 Month Update

So today is 3 months since I finished radiation for DCIS breast cancer.  The actual breast cancer treatment wasn't too bad.  I was lucky.  I sailed through the surgery & for the most part the radiation was easy.  Fatigued yes but I got through it without any major illness or time off work.

Last Day of Radiation
I took May very easy.  I continued to walk instead of run.  I did a couple short bike commutes to work.  We had a great vacation in Washington. I came back to work after Memorial Day feeling healthy.  I continued bike commuting a couple days of the week.  I slowly started adding run intervals to my walks.  I even hit the pool in early June.

Shillito Pool
Then came the second week of June.  It started with a scratchy, dry sore throat.  Then a little burn in my lungs with any exertion.  I figured I had a cold or allergies.  Several folks I knew had hacky coughs so I figured  it was my turn.  I managed to stay really healthy all through the cancer treatment so I was due.  I went to the work doctor & he said it was just a cold.  So I didn't think much about it.  Just went on my way.

The problem was I just wasn't getting better.  I dialed my workouts down even more.  No more jogging, only 1 bike commute each week, used fins at the pool but nothing helped.  I was tired.

We went to New York to visit family for a long weekend at the end of June. We always hike & explore while we are there but this time I was perfectly content to sit & hang out all weekend. That damn cold was really hanging on. Over 2 weeks since the first symptoms.

Queensbury, New York - Mom, Grandma, Steven, Jason & me
The following weekend was 4th of July weekend & we headed to Savannah to visit Nina.  I had to take naps every day.  We barely did anything.  By Saturday I knew I was heading downhill fast.  We had rented kayaks & I could barely keep up.  The effort was exhausting.  I felt bad but I had no interest in exploring Savannah. Just the thought was exhausting. I was so freaking tired.

Tybee Island - Me, Nina & Steve
I had 2 extra days off at home thanks to the holiday so I was just trying to get home knowing I could rest.  By the evening of the 4th I was done.  I was coughing, barely could breathe & my chest hurt something fierce.  I thought I had bronchitis.  I called my GP office first thing Wednesday (7/5) morning.  Thankfully they were able to see me that morning.

To my surprise the doctor told me I had pneumonia or possibly radiation induced pneumonitis.  Huh?  I was stunned.  She sent me to have a chest xray to confirm.  While waiting, I was googling radiation induced pneumonia.  I didn't like what I read at all.

Later that afternoon the doctor called me to confirm that I had pneumonia & that I needed a CT scan.  They got that scheduled for Friday morning & she started me on antibiotics. By Monday (7/10) morning I had zero improvement so I called to schedule a follow up with my GP.  When she walked in she said they are trying to get me in with a Pulmonary specialist ASAP because my pneumonia was severe.  My entire left upper lobe was full of pneumonia.  The CT could not determine if it was bacterial or radiation induced.  She assumed bacterial so they gave me a shot of antibiotics & a stronger antibiotic prescription.  She also told me no work for 2 weeks.  I thought she was nuts at the time but believe me I have needed every bit of those 2 weeks off.

I went to the Pulmonary specialist on Tuesday (7/11) morning.  He showed me my CT scan & explained how the next couple of weeks were going to go.  He re-iterated that they couldn't tell if the pneumonia was bacterial or radiation induced without a lung biopsy.  He treatment plans were this: 14 days of strong antibiotics & steroids.  If I get better, then it's bacterial.  If I am the same in 1 week then we do a lung biopsy.  If I get worse, go straight to the ER.  No exercise, no work, no being outside in the heat until I start to feel better.  Period.

See all that white?  That's pneumonia.
That bright white spot is most likely pneumonia on my right lung
Well, you would think being cooped up inside in July would be the worst thing in the world for someone that enjoys being outside & active.  The reality was I was so miserable I didn't care about the mandatory couch time.  The first 10 days were spent sleeping 9-10 hours each night, a morning nap & an afternoon nap.  When I was awake I watched the Tour de France & HGTV.  Each afternoon I would try to spend a few minutes online checking work emails but that was pretty much the extent of my working.

I had such a hard time determining if I was feeling better.  The improvements were so minor.  I remember telling the doctors that if I stay still & don't move I could convince myself that I am feeling better but as soon I got up it was a completely different story.  I was exhausted.

I had my first follow up with the pulmonary doctor on Tuesday (7/18).  I had little to go on from my perspective on whether or not I was truly improving.  I resorted to my Garmin data & a couple of things others said to me.  First, one of my friends said it didn't sound like I was as out of breathe when I spoke.  OK, that's good.  I still felt like I was out of breathe but that was good feedback.  Second, the same pulmonary nurse saw me each week & she said I looked better even though I still felt rough.  The rest was on my Garmin data. Yeah, total data nerd.

I looked at Garmin Connect to check my average resting heart rate & sleep trends.  My average resting HR on June 4th was 57 bpm.  Through the month of June it creeped up to a high of 67 bpm by July 2nd.  I started antibiotics on July 5th.  By July 9th it was down to 60 bpm & by the 18th it was down to 54 bpm.  The antibiotics & the rest were clearly helping even if I didn't feel better.

The next thing I looked at was my deep sleep time.  Prior to starting antibiotics my deep sleep was 3-4 hours per night even though my total sleep time was 9-10 hours each night.  After two weeks of antibiotics I was sleeping deeply 5-7 hours each night out of the 9-10 hours.  I interpreted that as I was breathing better & not coughing nearly as much in the night.

Using this data & feedback from others we decided to delay the lung biopsy which relieved me greatly.  This was not something I wanted to do AT ALL.  My next follow up is 7/31 & I am optimistic that I will be feeling much better.  I still have a few days before going to work but I have gone 2 days without a nap.  I have much more mental energy than I did even earlier this week.  I am definitely breathing better.  I am still very fatigued & don't see myself doing any real workouts for several more weeks.

In addition to my inhaler optri-chamber, I got a breathing apparatus called a flutter valve this week.  The way the pulmonary nurse practitioner explained it was it is like doing bicep curls for your lungs.  I use it 6 times a day & I noticed right away that it noticeably improved my breathing.

Flutter Valve

The doctors said the total recovery time was 8-12 weeks provided I don't have any other underlying issues.  I go back on 8/21 for a follow up CT scan to see how much my lungs have cleared up.  At that point we should be able to determine if this was just a nasty case of pneumonia or something else is lurking.  Fingers crossed it is the former.

Sammie - My couch surfing buddy
While on rest, I have thoroughly enjoyed watching the Tour de France this year.  I have watched all but 2 stages so far.  It has been the highlight of my days this month while recuperating.

Conversely, I am entirely sick of HGTV.  I'm so over those shows. I think HGTV will now always remind me of radiation treatment & pneumonia.  That channel is always on in the waiting rooms.

I read a few free prime books this month nothing worth noting.  Just easy reads. My biggest accomplishment this week was that I finally got our paperwork in order to meet with a financial advisor. I have been putting that off forever.

Tomorrow I go for another craniosacral massage.  It helped a lot during radiation treatment so I am hoping it will help a bit with my fatigue since Monday I go back to work. I am hoping that I can make it a full day but we shall see. 

Stay healthy, y'all!


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