Keeping the Line- 29 Wk Food Journal Check In/ Cancer Scare

In April, I received the news that I had a small patch of basal cell carcinoma (skin cancer) on my face by my right nostril.  A small pustule had been bleeding off and on and my wise husband said “You better go get that looked at.”  Though he had to nudge me several times before I made an appointment.  The dermatologist biopsied it along with doing a full body check for other possible skin cancers.  Considering I’m covered in freckles from my Irish side, everything looks like cancer to me.  I was sitting in my home office working the morning when the doctor called and said the dreaded words “It’s cancer.”

My mother died of metastasized colon cancer after an 8 year battle not only with colon but lung cancer.  To say this traumatized me watching her suffer so much is an understatement.  Aside from something tragic happening to my family, my biggest fear has been to get cancer.  Any kind of cancer.  I have nightmares about it and I’m always getting check or tested as much as I possibly can for different types such as getting a mammogram, colonoscopy, etc.  I do not want to die like my mother did, slowly wasting away, cancer taking over her bones where she was in constant pain.  We wouldn’t let our pets die this way, I’m not sure why we do our humans.  But that’s another blog post altogether.

I remember ending the call with the doctor and just staring out the window as my biggest fear had just come to life.  Logically, I knew it was a minor type of cancer, non life-threatening.  If I was going to have any kind of cancer, this was highly curable.  My unlogical emotional and fearful side just swelled and took over, stealing away my logic for about an hour or two.  I cried, I felt doomed, I was thinking but I used sunscreen at least from my mid-twenties when skin cancer advocates preached prevention.  Would I have a huge scar on my face?  Would that matter if it’s removed.  I just wanted that cancer out of my body and knew I would not hear from the skin cancer surgeon for a few days.

Then my brain kicked in and I calmed myself down.  Stop overreacting, I told myself firmly.  You’ve got this, you know people going through way worse than you, stop being a damned pussy about it.   Grow up, get a grip and get back focused with your life. The surgery was scheduled for the end of May, almost a month away.  I am an emotional eater.  I use food to comfort me and make me feel better.  Now that my mom is gone, I gravitate more toward food.  During this month, I was not as diligent about entering what I ate in the food journal, finally just giving it up until after the surgery.  Then I just let it sit until I weighed myself last weekend and realized I had indeed gained a few pounds back.  Nothing major but obviously left to my own devices, I don’t really pay attention as closely as I believe to what I eat.

I knew the time between the call telling me I had cancer until the surgery, I was eating when I wasn’t hungry.  I’ve read all sorts of books on emotional eating, I’ve tried the listen to what you really want and eat it only those things type of instruction they give you from that book.  I’m sure that works for some people.  But me, I always think I want chocolate or something not good for me or to eat when I am bored, upset but not hungry.  The problem is, I’m so good at lying to myself and excusing what I eat, that I am not a reliable source of recollection and tracking just in my mind alone.  My mind covers up my extra portions and little treats I think, oh those calories won’t count much.  Except they do.  Every single one of those little bastards add up and total much more than the 1800 calorie limit I set for myself daily.

To know your limitations is to know thineself.  My limitation is that I have spent so many years lying to myself about what I eat because I was in this binge/purge/overeating/under eating/dieting cycle that I still carry around my old habits.   Though this May, I quietly acknowledged my emotional overeating without coming down on myself.  I just noted that it was a rough period I was going through, I was eating to comfort myself and it’s not the best for me but I’m okay.  Several years back, I would beat myself up and then eat even more because I felt worse.  It’s an odd cycle, emotional overeating.   I also said things to myself like, well at least it’s a little extra food and not crack or heroin.  You could be self-medicating with way worse substances.  So I have come a long way but I’m still not quite in the zen of ony eating when I’m hungry mindset.

So the solution?  A simple one.  Back at the food journal 24/7, full time, recording every thing I shove into my pie hole.  That’s a lovely mental image isn’t it?  It’s been working and when I go off the journal, I regain a bit because even though I would like to believe that I am acutely aware of what I eat, I still tend to use food for comfort at times or I don’t remember things I’ve eaten.  Having the calories consumed in black and white on my phone is a continual reminder to adjust my eating habits.  I was hoping by the time six months had come and gone into this food journal experiment, that I would have the knowledge and wisdom to eat without the food journal.  While I have improved, I’m not quite there yet.  I have some old, latent issues to resolve.  Which is good news because now I can pinpoint them and work on them more specifically.  It took me years to get to where I am, it won’t be overnight for me to correct them.   It’s a journey like anything else.

Since I have been back on the food journal wagon, keeping the line, I’ve lost a few of the five pounds I gained.  Two steps forward and one step back.  The important thing is to keep going forward and learning along the way.  I could easily get pissed off and discouraged so I quit but that doesn’t do me any good nor does it fix the problem.  If I give up, then I lose.  I fail myself.  I’m not doing that.  I’ve done it enough in the past.  It’s time to keep the line, keep going.  Keep using that annoying app and record every little dang thing I eat.  Mostly it’s annoying because I want to think I eat better than I really do and having that pointed out to me pisses me off.  It really isn’t the app’s fault.

Food journals work, if you use them.  Kindness to yourself works as well.  I could be ranting at myself that I am a failure for my weight gain but I am not.  I’m just getting back on the horse and back into the food journal groove.

With the manta – Keep the line, keep the line.  I’m not even sure what that means but it sure sounds good.  Ciao!

PS – The surgery went well, it was a tiny spot and I only ended up with minor scarring.  I was being a big weenie about it all because of my fear of getting cancer.

 

A Girl and Her Bike…

Cycling has become a religion to me.  Not in the way of the stereotypical cyclist who races, does tours, watches every ounce or gram on the bike, who lives and dies by the mileage and weighs precisely 95.6 lbs.  Okay I don’t know if anyone actually weighs that but weight is a huge issue in the cycling world, gear and rider.  No for me my bike has become somewhat of a ‘bible’ of sorts (apologies for anyone finding that blasphemous).  In the sense that it is my avenue to find peace and a spirituality that doesn’t come from Sunday services, verses, or commandments.  It is simply my bike and me on the pavement, sometimes the trail but out in God’s great creation we call ‘nature’.

I gain strength from cycling, the sheer at of revolution after revolution as my legs and feet turn the crank which turns the chain which drives the wheel.  It propels me to nowhere and everywhere at the same time.  Physical strength, mental strength, emotional strength.  Two wheels and a carbon fiber frame, some gears, brakes and words in neon green scrawled across my top tube “Go Get Em Killer” that started as a joke but has become my mantra, a reminder to keep going when I want to quit.  Not only quit riding but quit in life.

After over eight months of suffering sometimes excruciating pain, multiple doctors, food intolerances, GI upsets, two ER visits, many tests that came back normal, they finally have found what is most likely causing this issue.  A uterine ablation done mid-2012 that has gone awry and very possibly I will need a hysterectomy.  I’m 45.  I feel like I am too young to think hysterectomy.  I leave the doctor’s office crying, I drive home crying, my daughters want to comfort me but I tell them give me some space, I’m going out to ride.  I’m pissed because I feel like this procedure was doomed from the start and I may have avoided both surgeries, the ablation and the hysterectomy if I need it.  I feel as if my body has betrayed me.  I’m angry that this comes in the middle of buying a new house and moving.  I’m angry my mom isn’t here to talk to about this.

Quickly I pump up my tires, slap a water bottle in one of my mismatched cages, my phone in its holder and clip into the pedals and pick the hilliest route around our small town.  The route that will go right by the house we will be moving to in a few months.  The music in my headphones is loud, I’m challenging cars to hit me (I get a bit stupid reckless when I’m mad – blame it on my Irish side) as I crank through town until I finally climb the overpass over the highway and coast down into a more rural setting.  The wind is blowing against me forcing me to fight harder to keep up any kind of speed.  I’m not really paying attention to the scenery though it is a sunny afternoon, not too hot and at least, not raining.  The road is a straight line that just gently flows up and down hills that are harder than they look.

My mind starts to empty, my mood starts to level as my entire focus becomes nothing more than to crank the pedals and shift the gears to propel me over each crest, coast, climb, coast, climb.  Watch out for the rabbit peeking out of the tall ditch grass, the road kill, the groundhog who can’t decide if he’s going to run in front of me or go back into the ditch.  Slowly my mind picks back up, now the anger has been channeled into climbing hills and I can think logically again.  I can hear messages or emails coming in on my phone and I reach forward to flip the switch to silence the interruption.  At the first stop sign, I change my playlist from the driving beat of my more motivation mix of music to an artist that puts me into a more reverant mood.  I need to think.   Take a long drag off the water bottle, cringe because I can’t stand sports drinks but hate water more and then cross the busy two lane highway before a semi truck hits me.

Back into the quiet, coming closer to our future home that is about eight miles or so from our house.  The hardest hill is right before the descent that passes this place.  The hill and trees to its west obscures the house from view but I pedal by only glancing at the house, I am more focused on the views around the place and see an old school house about a mile up or so east of it.  I decide to ride to that crossroad and turn around.  I am more of an out and back riding for the sheer purpose of seeing what my average speed is because for some reason that seems like it would be more true than a loop ride.  I have no idea if this is true but it makes sense to me.  I’m retracing my steps, the wind is behind me, the terrain is now opposite, there has to be some science there right?

I’m thinking about the pain and the doctors and the tests and the frustration and all the lost sleep I have had since early November.  I am thinking about what other women have told me about the surgery.  I realize that if this is what is to be, it is not the end of the world.  I can be angry about all the tests, but I have a lot of proof that there isn’t any cancer or something else going on with my body.  Just simply this was missed because maybe the first time I visited my OB/GYN in May, I took pain medicine that prevented the physical exam from showing anything amiss. Good news, my next colonoscopy is five years out and I’ve had two with no polyps.  Bravo!

Climbing again, up toward the new house I smile to myself and think yes, I will be happy here.  I will have less gardens to tend, though our lot is much bigger it’s mainly just mowing.  We can sit out on our patio and not be stared at by 20 neighbors.  Or sit on our front porch and not be approached by salesmen.  I click off my music with my headphones switch and listen to the quiet.  A gentle wind making the corn stalks swoosh and dance.  Or the tall grass gently hush, hush.  Simply said, it is peaceful.

My husband and I had a hard time narrowing down what we wanted in a home.  Logically as we always are, we came up with a checklist of attributes the new property needed to have such as a two-car garage attached, enough room for our daughters, maybe a workshop for him, newer rather than older home that is maintenance free as possible.  The one element we really wanted though and took us a long time to figure out was we needed peace, quiet and solitude more than anything else.  The last few years had been brutal emotionally for us.  Our focus had shifted.  Things we once thought we wanted or were important were no longer so.  As is everything else, sometimes the direction of your journey isn’t evident and you take a few wrong turns until you get back on the road you need.  Sometimes you don’t know you need something and it takes awhile to realize it.

I cranked by the house and up the hill.  At the top of the hill is a cross roads and my hometown is way in the distance.  The elevation of this hill is high enough I can see the rolling countryside all the way to town.  I brake at the side of the road for a minute and smile.  I’m no longer angry or sad or frustrated or feeling depressed and old.  I’m bracing my bike with my legs and feeling strong because I just rode all that way out to here and I’m not even tired. Sweaty, but not tired.  I am 45, overweight and according to my tests and with the exception of my uterus, I’m in great health.   I lean down and put my hands back over the brake hoods and clip in my right foot into the pedal.  My bike is an extension of myself, the way I deal with all sorts of life issues.  It is my Zen.  It is the friend who never judges.  It is a vehicle to sort out my life, my emotions, my thoughts.  What I want out of life is much more simple than I ever thought.  Losing my mom put that all into focus.  I push off and both wheels hit the pavement again.  Clipping in my left foot, the fun begins as my ride out was hard.  The ride back is mostly downhill with the wind pushing me.  My cyclocomputer soon reads 25 mph as I lean down into the drops making myself more aerodynamic.  The world flies by and I feel a familiar rush of adrenaline and am finally having fun.

I’m simply a girl and her bike out for a ride.

Solitude and the Outdoors, a Girl’s BFFs

Being outdoors is like a drug for me. I’m not sure why but the Japanese have done studies to prove that spending quiet, meditative time outdoors in the woods can ease stress and depression. I have to concede with these studies because the other day, I was feeling pretty down, the weather here in Ohio is not really conducive to keeping your mood elevated with it’s cold and dreary days. On a whim, I decided to drive to this park which is closed off to auto traffic November thru April and you can walk many of the winding roads without fear of getting hit.

I parked in my usual spot and realized I had forgotten the outer layer of my coat, leaving me only the fleece inner shell. I found my gloves and a scarf, so I made due. I figured once I started walking, I would warm up anyway. Out of habit, I stuck my headphones into my phone and took that as well. Except as I started walking, I heard the birds singing, the ones who are too crazy not to migrate somewhere warmer, and I could hear the creek’s waters rushing through the melting ice. The air smelled clean and sweet. I tucked my headphones into my inside coat pocket and left the music off. This wasn’t the gym, I wasn’t here to ‘workout’, I was going to enjoy my walk. Sometimes I get too focused on fitness to just relax and enjoy what I’m doing.

I walked past the picnic shelter where we had the last picnic with my mom before she got too sick to get out of the house. My oldest was going back to college and while my mom wasn’t feeling the best, we managed an impromptu outing. I walked by the spot down from the red covered bridge where most years, the kids and I threw down blankets so they could wade the creek and catch crawdads. In the end, they would count their haul, maybe watch a few of them ‘race’ and then the rule was to set them all free again in the creek. We’d all been so busy this last summer, we never had our crawdad catchin’ day. Though I think this past year none of us felt like going to the park.

I stopped on the covered bridge and watched the creek break through the ice that had started to melt. The bridge also acted as a windbreak which gave me a moment to pause in relative warmth. I’ve been dreading my husband’s upcoming weeks away for training for his new position at his company. Four weeks over four months. The last time he had a series of training weeks like this, my mom was still alive and I spent a lot of time with her while he was gone. Now I wouldn’t have her here. I was feeling anxious and alone though really I’m not alone. Then I thought maybe it is the fact I no longer have her to lean on. It’s an odd thing when it really hits you that you no longer have parents or grandparents. No matter how hold you are, which I’m mid-40’s, you realize how much of a support system your parent(s) was to you. Well at least for me, I can’t speak for anyone else.

There was no one in the park which allowed me to think and I made a mental list of all the other people in my life who are my support system. I’m not alone, I thought, things have just changed. Then it dawned on me, that I’m far from helpless. Actually when crisis arises, I’m usually the first one to jump in and take action unless my husband beats me to it. It is simply just in how you look at things, your perception. By shifting my thoughts from wow, my mom isn’t here, I am going to feel very alone when my husband is out of town to hey, I can rely on myself and I’ll be just fine, I have a lot of support. Once I got that thought into my head, I felt much more at peace with the upcoming months’ challenges.

I won’t enjoy being apart from my husband but I can make the best of that time. Focusing on my writing for one. I’m bad about starting to write and then getting distracted by a million things. One of which is constantly looking at email, Facebook and the like. I’ve realized my phone has become almost another appendage to my body. I almost never am away from it. It’s always within reach. When it’s not, I feel phantom pains and go looking for it. Rarely is there anything in there that is so important that I need to know RIGHT NOW. Most of it could wait an hour or even forever. I thought back at times in my life when I was way more focused and productive. Back in the days of the desktop computer so big that you had to have your own room for it. You couldn’t tote it around so you checked your email once or twice a day.

Now I rarely even open my laptop, doing almost everything from my phone or my tablet. It makes me wonder how much more I could do with my life if I cut out the distractions. How much more focused on what is actually going around me than having my face stuck into a screen? LIfe before smartphones and tablets. I faintly remember it like a flashback in a movie. I wasn’t like one of Pavlov’s dogs, drooling at every chime or alert to see what had just shown up in my proverbial bowl. So I’m going to start putting the phone down. Turning the wifi off on my tablet when I write, things such as that to see if I actually am more productive and maybe a bit more engaged. It’s too easy to lose yourself in an electronic world. Even my kids bitch at me that I’m not listening to them. “Gawd, Mom, it’s bad when your kid is complaining that you are on your phone too much and not the other way around.” It’s such a habit I don’t even realize I’m doing it. And maybe it’s time I disconnect more.

Disconnect and get outside, I think it’s a prescription for a more content life. Time will tell me soon, I’m sure.

The Last Resort…

At 4:30 a.m. the other morning, you could find me in my dark living room, kneeling on the carpet with my forehead pressing into the rug in a yoga pose which is basically an upright fetal position. Since early November, I have been rudely awoken at 3:00 to 4:30 a.m. many days with sharp pain in my lower abdomen that radiates into my hips. Each time, I lose at least two hours of sleep as I wait for the pain to subside.

Late December, I saw my gastrointestinal specialist who prescribed me a medication that seems to exacerbate my condition once the medication wears off. I also was given the FODMAP diet which is supposed to relieve the painful symptoms of IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) which I have nicknamed the paper and cotton ball diet because it is gluten and lactose free with so many foods I can’t eat, that I’ve narrowed it down to a diet of paper and cotton balls. Even this has not made any difference.

I have been using a journal app to help me determine the “triggers” but other than the probiotic my doctor recommended to help (but it had the opposite effect), I have yet to discover what is really causing this. Desperate, I’ve been researching online and in books about IBS but it seems they know very little about it but I keep reading the same things over and over. The key word is “Syndrome” which means that there is really not a medical cause they can find.

As I read anything and everything I can find on IBS, stress, anxiety and depression seem to be the common thread. The gut/mind connection has been proven by scientific studies and they continue to explore this. Well, I thought, the last few years have been really hard. Depression runs in my family on both sides and I have had several major depressive episodes in the past. As I wait for the ibuprofen to kick in as I stay in the only pose that affords me a bit of relief, I start wondering if my problem is not so much what I eat but the fact that my body has been through extreme amounts of stress and grief and maybe it’s just worn out.

Since this started early in November, I wonder if the fact that I had pretty much quit riding the 50 miles or more a week was a trigger. I’ve been exercising steadily to deal with grief and stave off depression. For almost three months, my exercise routine has been minimal so I have not had the benefit of the ‘runner’s high’ so to speak from the vigorous exercise of cycling to help me combat stress and keep my body running well. Stress. I realized the two college classes I have starting in a few days are weighing heavily on my mind. I had just read where 60% of IBS sufferers also suffer anxiety and 20% of them deal with depression. In other words, I was a prime candidate for aggravated IBS symptoms.

Desperate for any relief, exhausted from night after night of interrupted sleep, I decided to drop my classes for now and focus on some serious self-care. My body is screaming at me but I haven’t been listening. Slow down, let me heal, it’s been a hard ride. Today I am going to sign up at the gym and start exercising almost daily to combat stress and depression. I just am unable to get in enough exercise riding my indoor rollers, etc. And I also need to pay attention to stressors. As well as making sure I eat well. One can not live on paper and cotton balls alone.

Will this work? I have no idea but it can’t hurt. My body is forcing me to step back and look at my life and make adjustments. Hopefully my theory is right because nothing else is working. Wish me luck!