My reminder to appreciate the little things

hh_cuyahogatrail2008
Hiking in Cuyahoga Valley

I tend to be a naturally optimistic person. I like to be happy and enjoy life (don’t you??). I’m going to be frank, though. Every so often I get in a funk and get frustrated with some of my physical limitations, thanks to cancer.

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When I was diagnosed 21 years old with bone cancer in my femur, there was a very real possibility that I might have a leg amputation. It was terrifying. It’s sadly not uncommon with my type of bone cancer diagnosis. Thankfully, I was diagnosed fairly early (it was stunning to know my tumor had been growing for almost a year!) and the horrible chemo did its job by killing the majority of the cancerous tumor in my femur. The tumor shrunk enough to be removed and save my leg. That meant the lower part of my femur, knee and upper tibia were removed and replaced with titanium.

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I work hard to keep my leg in strong shape. I work out at least four times a week, sometimes more. I have always enjoyed exercise and being physical so it makes it less ‘work’ for me (I know many people feel like working out is a chore). During Michigan’s warmer months, I get most of my exercise outdoors hiking, biking, and more.

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The challenge with the titanium rod is that I have to be more cautious than the average person with regard to injury, impact and twisting of my leg. A wrong move or fall could break my remaining bone, the pin, etc. One of the bigger blows that cancer gave me was having to stop riding my beautiful horses (too risky if I fell). I also can’t run (too much impact) or ski (too much twisting), and can only play tennis if my opponent can serve pretty close to me so I don’t have to run (uh, yeah, so I don’t play much; no offense to my family and friends!). Over time, I’ve picked up many other activities that I now love and enjoy. My regular readers know my love of hiking, biking and Zumba. I usually try to shove that caution to the back of my mind and throw myself into enjoying everything I can.

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Sometimes, though, that always present caution and tiny anxiety in the back of my mind get a little louder and cause me to get….well, cranky and frustrated. Because I don’t want to always be cautious and anxious. I want to ride a horse, run a marathon, sky dive, bike without any cares, teach my niece to play tennis and not say no to joining my friends in an activity.

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My annual check up with my oncology surgeon arrived just in time with my blue(ish) mood (this sounds so much better than saying I was feeling sorry for myself) so I decided to express my frustration with my limitations. I am so fortunate to have my cancer care team. My doctors always devote every minute in the room to just me and my concerns. They listen, talk and share. Never have I felt rushed or silly for bringing up a topic.

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sanddunes
Climbing to the top of a sand dune – very rewarding!

My surgeon asked me to share what activities I do or have done since surgery. I listed biking, hiking, Zumba, yoga, rock climbing, weight training, dancing, etc. She kind of chuckled and asked what don’t I do? I started to list some of my ‘restricted’ activities but stopped. I sort of saw where she was going with her questions. Then I recalled a past conversation when I complained that during a hike on a glacier field in Alaska I had to turn back after a few miles because I was worried about falling on the slick footing. “But you hiked a glacier field in Alaska! Even a few miles is an awesome accomplishment that most people won’t or can’t do!” was the reply. I know this is true. From hiking in Montana, Ireland, Oregon, Hawaii and elsewhere to rock climbing in Canada to biking miles and miles without an ache in my knee, I am a fortunate bone cancer survivor. I accomplished these things on my own legs. My healthy body allowed me to push myself physically and enjoy these amazing moments.

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She eased my mind quite a bit about how long my hardware (medical jargon for the titanium rod, plastic knee, etc.) should last and my activity limitations. She reminded me that I know my body best and basically said as long as I pay attention for certain pains, then I could appreciate the many activities I can do. And she’s right.

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I share all this not to brag, because I know most of you can do all these activities and more, but to share the lesson I was reminded of today. Sometimes we all need a reminder of the good in our lives and all that we can do so we focus on the positive rather than allow the the negative to drain too much of our energy. Not every bone cancer survivor has both of their legs. Not every bone cancer survivor who has their two legs can be as physically active due to complications. Some walk with limps. Some are in chronic pain. So, yes, I am fortunate. I can do so much and love every minute that my body is moving. It’s freeing and a reminder that I’m alive. My example is being a bone cancer survivor, yet I am sure that each of you has a circumstance where you can appreciate what you can do.

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Who cares that I sometimes decline an activity because it’s too risky for my leg? So I can’t run anymore. I hike downhill a little slower than others. I stand on the sidelines during a volleyball game. It doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy many, many activities. Or stand on the sideline cheering on my friends, which also brings me joy. I simply embrace the accomplishment in a different way than others. I no longer take for granted that I wake up every day and walk on my own two legs. Neither should you take that for granted because you never know if someday the ease will disappear.

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The fact that I even wake up every day, breathing and cancer-free, is always the biggest blessing I count. And sometimes that’s what I focus on for that day. Because I’m human and have ‘those days’ that I feel a little down and frustrated with myself. But I allow myself those days because it brings me back to these grateful moments.

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On a side note, the really happy news for me is that my surgeon pretty much gave her blessing (with a few caveats) for me to attempt to ride this ‘little’ bike event across Iowa with Team Livestrong next summer. I’m super excited to have something to train and focus on as I think this would be the ultimate accomplishment for me as a bone cancer survivor. Stay tuned for more on my new bike and adventures!

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What are you grateful for today?

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