Running Back to 'Normal'

Getting back to “normal” is different for everyone. Part of my normal is running on a regular basis again. I have decided to run a local 5k in Kennesaw on Labor Day. Running a 5k used to be no big deal for me.

I knew running wasn’t going to be possible for a long time after the cancer diagnosis last year. So my last 5k run was May 2014 with both my sons – two weeks before my double mastectomy was scheduled…and it was scheduled on my 49th birthday. Seriously. This was my second round with breast cancer and was caught early again thankfully. Considered Stage 1, but it was also considered aggressive. I did a lot of research on the options. My options were limited.

Post-race 2014

It is normal to put a veil on to cover how you’re really feeling. I smiled and joked about it. The chemo treatment and surgeries took quite a toll on me physically and mentally. Physical therapy had to be prescribed because I was in a lot of pain on the right side. I know I smile all the time; but I smile because it does makes me feel better.

All I thought about was running. And when you can’t do something, you want it even more. I wasn’t able to even jog around the neighborhood or in the woods during treatment. At all.

My first attempt at getting back to running was in January. It didn’t go well. This was two months after the final reconstruction surgery.  You see, my first round with breast cancer was treated in 2006 with a lumpectomy and radiation to my chest wall. The radiation created a lot of scar tissue and tightening of the skin. The breast cancer came back the same side in 2014. I decided to try reconstruction at the same time as the mastectomy, knowing the radiation scarring could cause a problem down the road.

After running in January, the implant irritated the chest wall muscle, scar tissue from radiation and skin. The area became inflamed and swollen. It was very painful to say the least. They feared I had an infection going on – which is quite common with mastectomies and reconstruction. A mild antibiotic was prescribed. The next day it was even worse. Turns out I had an allergic reaction to the antibiotic.

The plastic surgeon wanted to do surgery and remove the implant. I said no. Give my body a chance to heal on it’s own. So he convinced me to at least try a different antibiotic. Between continuing to boost my immune system through nutrition and the different antibiotic, the area healed completely in three weeks. It worked. Dr. Symbas was impressed – it’s rare to heal so quickly especially after having chemo too. But he reminded me not to keep the implant if it affects my running. Be Brigitte…and get back to my normal lifestyle.

To be honest, I was scared to run after that and worried that it would irritate the radiated area again. That fear can be debilitating and you look for all kinds of excuses.

I walk in the woods daily and hike at the nearby park regularly (foothills of the Appalachians). But it’s just not the same as running for me. So my second attempt to run on a regular basis started in April. It’s warmer out which means bugs and ticks. Lucky me, I had a tick bite on my wrist that wouldn’t heal properly. After three weeks I had it checked out by a skin doctor. It turned into a small cyst which is common as you age (sucks getting older).

They also checked out a small mole on my right shoulder, on the backside, that my husband noticed.  It was removed and a biopsy performed. It was melanoma caught very early. WTF. I wear sunscreen and wore broad hats the past year. The mole was right along the area where a sleeveless shirt ends. I strongly believe the chemo triggered this; I was told that your skin can become more sensitive after chemo. Crap.

People need to be aware how common this is and is why I am writing about it. I had to go back the end of May (a week before my 50th birthday) to have more skin removed for “clear margins” where the mole was. The extra skin that was removed was clear – no other sign of cancer was found. But I had to put running on hiatus again to heal because of the external and internal stitches. The scar will eventually just look like a line because they used a plastic-surgery technique. The area is covered at all times and I apply paraben-free sunscreen BEFORE putting on my clothes, not after.

The third time’s a charm, right? The Labor Day race is 6 weeks away. My latest attempt at running started a week ago and my 17-year-old son agreed to run with me three times a week, with mom setting the pace. He’s a sprinter and played ice hockey for 9 years. Running three miles is probably not his idea of fun but he is up to the challenge and is a great way for us to bond.

I actually took a break from writing this post for a morning 3-mile trail run, accompanied by my son.  It was cool out and the ground was soft from last night’s rainfall. We had a few obstacles to go around because some trees had fallen on the trail from a previous storm.

How do I feel? I can’t run a mile yet without having to stop. But that’s okay. One step at a time.  My legs and glutes are a little sore. The mild pain in my right shoulder and neck is a reminder to do my yoga stretches and the PT exercises I learned last year. But I’m getting my mojo back.

Cancer is in the past.


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