Owning My Story

That’s exactly what I did — to a local class of nursing students two days ago.

Because I was invited! They’re studying the liver right now and I’m a liver transplant survivor since 1984. Initially, my friend Michael was in that class and asked me last February if I wanted to be his “show and tell” for that unit. I was game!

First, I congratulated them on a wonderful, important, career choice as nurses.

I did ask that no one record or take any pictures. I shared details about my diagnosis, lab results, the financial impact of buying health insurance, prescription refills, and hospital bills. I wanted those nursing students to leave with more empathy for their future patients and an appreciation to how managing liver disease is a part of so many aspects of your identity and daily decisions. With some humor sprinkled in on the fun aspects for comic relief!

But I didn’t want it to be public. This was something I normally keep private, as my Dad had advised me early-on not to talk too much about my illness. Mainly because he didn’t want me to lose any opportunities– especially business-related– based on my diagnosis. Most companies see any “health issues” as a liability and discriminate because of it. It’s not legal– but that’s why we have protections against having to reveal that in a job interview. Because all of have the right to work, even if one of those health issues includes a serious illness or disability.

I grew up to share his stoic views, but for a different reason. I didn’t want to be stereotyped as weak– as a “sick” person. It can also scare people off when it comes to dating. It’s the kind of information I don’t typically share until it looks like it’s headed toward a relationship, rather than the initial dates.

But in this context, I have an opportunity to empower and inspire hope.

In this context, being open about something I normally withhold would be helpful to others. I wanted to be an example of a person managing a serious diagnosis who has a normal life — and I wanted to embody for them a name to go with the diagnosis. To maybe help them become a little more understanding the next time a patient is difficult, angry, anxious or hurting.

The first time I spoke about it, I was more facts-oriented. I made sure to use technical terminology and the teacher sent me her power point so I tried to make connections to their material. It was more about feeling validated intellectually for me– I didn’t want the class to think I was uneducated about my condition and my body. I wanted to impress them with terminology, procedures I’ve had– facts like comparing lab values from when my liver almost rejected and present day, when it’s stable and healthy. Things they may study.

The students were attentive but also quiet. I wasn’t sure how I did, but Michael said I was great and the teacher invited me back.

This second time I spoke, I was confident. I validated myself, I didn’t need their approval. I relaxed. I did include some facts and terms, but decided instead to focus on telling them about me. What I like to do, what makes me happy, accomplishments!

I brought my own “show and tell”– running medals!

Two. From Warrior Dash 2016 (my first!) and the Titan 10k, just in July 2017. Two races which really challenged me. I JOKED about the Derby Firecracker 2017, when I was *dead last and was passed up by a 77-year-old woman and a snotty speedwalker. And I could laugh about it– especially since my Aunt Judy had been there taking pictures. And that was more important than my time and ranking!

And I never undermined myself by saying I was a “slow runner”– it never occurred to me. I got to stand in front of that class and reminisce about defining moments in my life when I did something with passion. I told them how happy running makes me, and that it gives me hope when I feel overwhelmed by the doctors’ appointments, price of medication refills, and those mornings when getting blood drawn hurts.

At the end, I got a bit emotional. I didn’t cry, but my voice broke a little.

The way *I see myself has changed since my first talk last February, and it was reflected in how I spoke.

Now I see myself as more than a liver transplant patient.
Now, I’m also a runner with serious training plans for long-distance races.

This opportunity was something I didn’t know I needed; it was a gift for me. Reminded me how far I’ve come– how resilient my immune system. Most importantly, my faith. My legs!

I told them my training goals for races this fall. I felt not just articulate, but healthy. You can’t run five miles without a certain level of fitness!

And I can run seven. I will run nine after training for this upcoming race.

Those students were all watching me. I had their full attention. And best of all, they really laughed and were more interactive. The teacher asked a few questions, and then I was done. And within the time limit!!

Last time I just left quietly, and then the teacher went on with her lecture.

But this time, two students approached me. They were on a small break. One brought me a postcard for an upcoming local Halloween 5k hosted by the college. She told me her name and that she’d be there. On her way out, she turned and stopped, made eye contact. Smile.

“Thanks so much for sharing your story.”

I’m invited back again. And I feel proud, happy, and healthy.

Advertisements

Excavating the Splinter

I feel seriously tough tonight!

For a week, I’ve had a splinter festering. The culprit was a wooden fan.

I kept hoping it would work it’s way out– but it was burrowing deeper. Worse, it was underneath the skin; nothing was poking out.

Like most kids, I grew up with my Dad doing the minor surgery required in the past. We always used a needle and alcohol– usually at the kitchen table.

I could feel it had already been too long and knew I had to take action today.

I asked a co-worker who is a mother of two to appraise it: she suggested tweezers. Obviously I didn’t have the tools at work.

This evening, I called over and asked for my parents’ help.

I brought my own needle and alcohol pad wipes over.

With a new sewing needle wiped clean and sterilized, my Dad broke the skin and then used the needle to try and push it out by dragging the needle across it. It wasn’t working. It made me sad that he didn’t seem to know anymore how to fix it.

He’s always known exactly what to do– always able to make quick decisions.

Luckily, I was paying attention all those times as a kid. And *I remembered the routine he had shown me myriad times in my life. Plus, my hands are smaller. I can maneuver better.

But he did help me– with moral support. My Step-mom Diane, too. And I needed it.

He held my finger steady while I poked around with the needle to dig it out. I YELLED. Doesn’t matter what age you are, splinters are always a bitch!

Then I asked Diane for some tweezers and she went upstairs to loan me hers. As she returned, they were gleaming. Might as well have been a surgical instrument! She stood by.

I grasped the edge of that splinter and –with my LEFT hand, mind you!!– yanked!!

I GOT IT!

It wasn’t long, but was a good size. Underneath the skin. It was square and jagged. It appeared to have all come out intact, what a relief! I yelled in joy.

“YES!!”

We worked as a team. They were happy to help and we all laughed about it.

Sometimes life gives us those little problems to remind us that we’re loved.

That it’s okay, and even good, to ask for help.

And maybe one day, I’ll be lucky enough to help my own kid excavate their splinter– just like my Dad taught me.

A September Run, A Dog, and My Ego

The September breeze enticed me to run tonight– for the second consecutive day.

I was thrilled to put on leggings and a hoodie! I decided on just a simple “recovery” run- 2.5 miles; half of the 5 miles I did yesterday.

Right away, I felt strong. I tried running a different route than I have previously– the wind smelled like a bonfire. It was supposed to just be an “easy” run– but when I checked my pace I was doing so GOOD! Emboldened, I kept it up and kept going.

I encountered my first unleashed dog on a run, which startled me! I heard barking to my right and saw it running beside me. But as I turned to spy my possible attacker, I realized it was just a yippy little thing. Less than five pounds. It was dark so I couldn’t make out the breed, but I laughed to myself! Probably some kind of Terrier. It didn’t chase me– and I continued in safety.

I was having such a good time. I love running in the dark!

But yesterday, I pushed myself to five miles. After three, my left knee and left ankle were hurting a bit– but I stuck it out for the last two miles. I told myself that one day when I run a half, I’ll need the endurance to run on fatigued legs. I never walked.

It was exciting to THINK in those terms– to just assume that someday I’ll run a half-marathon. It’s the first time I’ve thought about it as a given, absolute.

But last night I had less than a quarter mile left when my right foot tripped. I was using it to compensate for my weakened left, clearly. Unconsciously. I think my shoe scuffed and then I tripped. I skinned my knee pretty good– it was bleeding freely.

But I pissed off to have such a great run interrupted, so I did something awesome. I NINJA-ROLLED to the right, then leapt off the sidewalk and continued running. My Nike app never even registered a pause! And I made my goal of 5 miles exactly when I got to my building.

I’ve never felt so hardcore in my life! I was proud. Once my run was over, I got some paper towels from my car trunk and cleaned up the blood before I went in. I poured Hydrogen peroxide on it, dabbed it dry, and put on a couple band-aids. It didn’t even hurt today where I scraped it, thought both knees did feel a little creaky.

I should have taken a Rest Day. But I had to be stubborn.

Tonight when I fell, it shredded the band-aid. I felt minor bleeding through my one pair of Lula Roe leggings. At least the leggings weren’t ruined!

More Hydrogen peroxide. A new, bigger, band-aid. Ice pack. Elevation.

I’m more annoyed that my goal was 2 miles and I went down at 1.89!! So. Close.

With each run, I learn. Tomorrow, a definite rest.

Welcome, September chill! This runner is thrilled to welcome you.

Runner’s Trots : 0 Amee: +1!

I ate a full dinner before running after work tonight. Half a mile into my run, I was regretting it!

That telltale rumble happened- but not in my gut.

Rather, in the place every runner fears. Usually I would turn back and deal with it at home first. Maybe even stop my run and start over.

But I had four miles planned, it was already getting late, and I was resolute.

I knew there was a bar up head on my route. So I just ran faster!

“Not yet, not yet, not yet!” I scolded my digestive tract.

I had taken a longer route to add more mileage– but I cut over from a trail to ensure I’d make it!

I ran into the bar and bolted into the ladies’, passing through a pool tournament. Paused my run!

And whew! Safe.

GI crisis averted.

Instead of starting over or giving up, I’m learning to improvise.

The remainder of my run was relaxed, even pleasant. I hit my goal of 4 miles.

You never know how far the next porta potty is on race day!

These small victories on training runs matter.

It Didn’t Break

Earlier tonight I was washing dishes, and a glass mug fell out of my hand.

On to the floor! I gasped, expecting it to shatter.

But like a falling cat, it somehow righted itself — and survived.

I laughed in relief. I have three of them– they are glass stein mugs from Long John Silver’s, years ago. Before writing this, I Googled them.

These mugs are 25 years old. They have ships on them. People sell them on eBay.

Not this broad! These remnants from my childhood make me happy.

It’s such a small moment, but witnessing this made me feel resilient.

They’ve gone with me to all my apartments, since I graduated college. I use them to drink milk or pop. I use them all the time.

If those mugs can hold up that long, I feel I can withstand anything.

When Running is Your Coping Skill

A conversation with my Dad this weekend zapped me out of a no-running funk.

I told him I was volunteering for a second race. They were three days apart.

Dad: “Have you run this week?
Amee: “No.”
Dad: Pause. “Are you still running?”
Amee: “Yeah.”
Dad: “Better stop procrastinating. Gotta do what you gotta do.”

I had to laugh. Months ago he was asking me why I was running so much! It had been 14 days since my last run. A week ago, I had a major panic attack at 3 a.m. I’m back on track now, thanks to being pro-active and reaching out to people as well as using different coping skills.

But I notice that lately if I’m in a bad mood or struggling to accept something, my friends and family ask about my running:

“Would a run help?”
“Have you run today?”

It’s sweet and reassuring. It means they’re paying attention.

It’s an alert that maybe running is more important to me than I even noticed.

And I’m starting to get it. If you lace up and go consistently, especially when you don’t want to– running becomes a vital aspect of your routine. It’s another source of stability in your life; something you do regardless of your moods or even if you feel a little ill.

Dory told us, “Just keep swimming.”

I want to be like her. In my case however, the mantra is “Just keep running.”

I’m so hard on myself. I need to stop comparing myself to other runners.

And when I volunteered at these races, my running friends were thankful for my support on the course. But they also made a point to ask why I wasn’t running it.

“You gotta get back to running!” one person told me.
“It’s great to have you out there cheering,” said another, “but you need to get out there kicking some ass.”

That made me laugh. Me, kicking ass at a circa 14 minute a mile pace? But I realized, that’s just my own insecurity.

I’m racing on a regular basis. In the pictures, I’m clearly working hard. I’ve got a good stride, I’m IN IT. I LOOK like a runner.

Even if I don’t always feel like one.

Tonight I was well-rested and got a lot done at work! I came home excited to run. I broke it in half: I ran to and from someplace I was going. It wasn’t quite 3 miles– 2.92 when I added up both distances.

But I already feel more sane. And going home was easier, I was faster.

I’ve got a 5k this weekend, and there are several races from September to November I’m planning. GAME ON, I’m ready!!

The Last Firefly

Tonight I attended a 5k as a volunteer, not a runner. And was inspired!

Total last-minute decision.

Right when I reported for duty, I was happy. After hunting down someone in charge I was told to cut open the bags of colored powder at a table. Kids who had just done a 1 mile color run were coming over to get two bags each, with a countdown to throw it all in the air following.

Their energy was more refreshing than sweet pink lemonade. I was definitely at the cool table– it was mobbed! All different ages, jostling each other and deciding which colors they wanted. I threw powder at them and they loved it.

They danced around, they egged me on. There were also clear plastic bottles full, usually intended for condiments. I squirted the powder on their bright white t-shirts and especially on their hair– they were delighted! Of course, I patted myself down generously as well.

My next assignment was to get dropped off at a spot on the course to help direct them toward a turn. I went inside and found a supervisor, who directed me to the corner of the gym by the back doors. There I found two gals from my running club, Diana and Terri! We all got to wear these dashing neon orange crossing guard vests, and Terri took a selfie of us in them! Then we loaded up into a van and Jody joined us. Dropped off at designated locations to direct the runners around corners or just encourage them.

The last woman I saw come around was followed by a car. She was an older woman, sweating and smiling all the way! I had talked to her as she was running toward my post the first time, and told her I liked her silly yellow headband. It had two yellow sprouty things on springs on it, waving as she shuffled on.

She had on a bright yellow tank top and thick, beautiful white hair.

“We’re fireflies,” she said. I cackled at their creativity. The race was named the Firefly 5k– perfect. She kept on, undeterred about being the last runner. I admired her. On July 4, I was the last runner in my race!

I was picked up in the same van less than 30 minutes later I believe, and then I was told which direction to walk back to the finish line.

But en route, I saw all the supporters of the runners and decided to stay and encourage people.

And I saw almost every person come up the hill. I gained a new perspective about racing. Instead of focusing on how I’m always “back of the pack,” I saw how hard EVERY runner was working. Some were full-on sprinting, seemingly dancing and barely touching the ground with the balls of their feet. Others were a steady pace, but still really labored. Some were walking. Some were wincing, favoring one leg — but determined.

I saw couples, kids, families. A boy who seemed to have been crying, but his dad was walking next to him, watching his son and encouraging him verbally to keep going. Maybe the kid wanted to quit. Maybe he was upset about something else. But you could see the love the father had for his son.

I saw racers going solo, as I often do.

One man seemed to be a giant— he looked to be nearly 7 feet tall! It was almost like watching a giraffe run. I was amazed he could be so coordinated. I realized that we all have our challenges. I am extraordinarily short. This man is astonishingly tall. And there he was, barreling along.

I did my best to constantly encourage them with claps, eye contact, pointing.

“You got this!”
“Keep going!”
“I like your shoes!”
“You’re doing AWESOME!”
“WOO HOO!”

And not just the ones struggling, but the ones KILLING it, too. Because running is hard, whatever your pace. And everyone out there is pushing themselves.

I am always so appreciative in races when I’m just slogging along and suddenly a volunteer is up ahead or around a corner– it inspires me to pick it up, get competitive again. To remember that I can do it.

Trying to beat a PR. Trying to support someone by running that race with them. Trying to block out the pain from injuries. Just trying to finish.

Toward the end, I made an effort to genuinely SMILE at runners. And a wonderful thing happened– it made ME happier to smile at them.

I’ve had a rough start to my weak. A panic attack Sunday night, must from general anxiety. Smiling and *meaning it truly made me feel more relaxed.

I was also happy to realize just how many runners I recognized. They saw me too and some haven’t seen me in months, since I haven’t done any group runs in awhile. We mainly interact on Facebook. They were surprised and genuinely waved and greeted me. One passing by, Laura, reached out to high-five me!

All the spectators were heading back to the finish line. The police left. I wasn’t sure if that last woman was still out there? I didn’t want to abandon her. It looked as if it may rain at any minute, so I headed back toward the finish. As I approached, I spied those same yellow firefly headbands. That woman had her own cheering section! I made small talk with them. They were closer to my age, 30’s or 40’s I’m guessing.

After 10 minutes or so I ventured back toward the street to look for her. And there she was! I ran up and she smiled at me with recognition. I ran back toward the finish line and joined her friends in cheering her on! I was on the opposite side, and we all cheered and yelled for her! Turns out her name is Lorrie.

“GO, LORRIE!” I chanted.

A race staff took her picture.

Lorrie was triumphant! And best of all, she medaled!

Just goes to prove it doesn’t matter your pace– don’t let that stop you from racing. She won 2nd in her AG– which running lingo for Age Group. You can be last in a race and still medal!!

Afterward I went to the after-party in a beer tent with some other peeps from our running club. We got free pizza, we took pictures. We bonded.

Robin told me, “You need to get back to running!”

Indeed, I do. I haven’t been on a run in a bit outside of a race.

Tonight I discovered five vital things:

1. Volunteering at races is almost as fun as running them! Sometimes more.
2. The people in my running club are welcoming, hilarious, good people.
3. I need to sign up for more local races and even some group runs to get to know them better.
4. If I don’t want to pay a race fee or don’t feel up to it, I can always volunteer. And still have a blast with my running peeps.

and most of all…

5. The running community is my tribe. They are energetic, generous and fit.

I may volunteer at a second race this weekend! Someone invited me.