Saturday, November 15, 2014

Bad News Comes in Pairs

Today was rough, no way around it. After three months of putting my body through hell and medical treatments, I went in for routine tests that ended up anything but routine.

The scar tissue that had built up around my intestines  due to the RCD was supposed to decrease as my immune system became compromised, allowing it to heal without being attacked. Unfortunately, although my white blood cell count is incredibly low, the scar tissue has only proceeded to grow. The doctors at the point think it is likely growing on its own, rather than being caused by the immune system attacking it.

They're giving it until January and if it does not reduce in size the next step is to operate.

I finish school in four weeks and go home to Bloomington shortly after that for a long two weeks away from work before heading to Austin, TX for cyclocross nationals. Hopefully I will know more before then.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Three Miles

I am a little over two months into my RCD diagnosis. Two months of not exercising, of complete breakdowns on my part and being a perfect case study for the negative side effects of steroids and immunosuppressants. I have seen more of the hospital than anyone ought to, and the nurses at this point know which fruit juice I prefer when I come in. It's a glamorous life.

Yet after today, I am a little farther from giving up than I was. Three miles to be exact. The three miles that I ran today and yesterday that reminded me what it feels like to breath and not worry. Cycling may be what I do to take some time for my thoughts, but running is where I go to not think, or at least not think about the usual things. On my bike I think about work, school, training plans for athletes I coach, my training plans and a myriad of other stressors. When I run I think about friendships, relationships, Colorado, puppies, sunshine and gumdrops. Happy things.

The last two days have been amazing and although it possibly landed me in the hospital (again), I have been given permission to start working out again. The doctor is skeptical that I will be able to do much, but the general opinion is that it might make things a bit easier on me mentally. I do not intend to push it, if only because I know the consequences.

Awhile back and before the diagnosis I signed up for a marathon (bucket list item) next May. I am not sure if this is on the table still but I have mapped out a semblance of a plan to get me from here to there.  It focuses a lot on cross training with my true love, the bike, which hopefully will put less wear on my immune system. However, my hopes are realistic at this point and I am accepting the fact that failure as I define it may be in my future.

I come off the current rounds of medicine in mid to late December and at that point we wait and see if my immune system resets itself properly. If so I go back to normal life with the continued gluten free diet that I've had for the last five years, and hope that this was all just a fluke. I do not want to get into what happens if it does not reset properly, but simply put it would mean an end to any long term training plans on the bike or in running.

So, wish me luck because my tires are back at 110 PSI, and my shoes have gotten pulled out from the depths of the closet. At this point every mile is a victory, and three is even better!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Rock Bottom, it isn't so bad with pillows

It was only a matter of time. Pump your body full of steroids and immunosuppressents for long enough and the end result is inevitable. I just wish that rock bottom hadn't been quite so hard. A pillow or two would have been nice.

I stayed home sick the Friday before last weekend. By home I mean the hospital. Not a great way to start a long weekend in which my roommate was hosting two parties. I was exhausted but had promised a few months ago to do menu planning and food prep, and I was not about to back out my end of the deal. I'm tired of letting people down. Saturday found me sitting on a stool in the kitchen. I don't even have enough energy to stand for a couple hours to make dinner anymore. If I had to pinpoint a starting point for my fall to rock bottom, this would be it.

The next piece was a hike that I can usually run, but it instead left me crying in my car afterwards with my arms wrapped around myself as if trying to hold it together. The rest of the week brought eight hour work days followed by five hour marathon homework sessions. By today (Saturday) I was running on empty, with an entire week's worth of course work to get done before I leave on Tuesday. I had planned on going to a soccer game solo due to changed plans, but found I didn't even have the energy to even drive. Then I snapped at someone and set off a chain reaction of things that I feared the most. All of this found me crying on the phone to a friend from back home, terrified.

And that's when it happened. I said to her: "I wish they had never found what was wrong for me, at least then I could be blissfully ignorant."

What a load of bullshit. A wagon of "I'm feeling sorry for myself-ness".

Yes, the RCD diagnosis sucks. Yes, I hate not working out and I hate feeling like I can't hold myself together, but saying something like that is admitting defeat. If it was not for my RCD diagnosis, I would have been hospitalized as my body started to shut down, first through loss of essential vitamins, then through it attacking itself and slowly breaking down. I am lucky. I am blessed to be given the chance to get better and go back to normal. Not everyone gets that chance and there are so many who have it worse than me.

Anyways, while I am still scrambling to put back the pieces, rock bottom is starting to get a bit more comfortable. It is likely that i'll be back here again before this is all over, but at least I can leave some pillows for next time.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Last of the Good Days

This last weekend was an odd dichotomy of uplifting and discouraging. At this point I am a little over a month into my treatment for refractory celiac disease, a condition where my immune system begins to attack my body despite being on a gluten free diet. In the weeks since my diagnosis I have spent significant time curled up in bed or on the couch, too exhausted to do anything as my immune system is shut down by a drug cocktail of immunosuppressants and steroids. In addition to the daily medications I have time each week in the hospital, hooked up to IV meds to help hurry this process along. These tend to make the rest of whatever day it is miserable.

I spend a lot of time being sick to my stomach, and with my white blood cell count being so low, sick in general. When I hike, or do anything physical I often have to take long breaks every ten minutes or so even to move on. Hiding exhaustion from those around me is becoming more and more difficult, particularly since I want to spend time doing fun things with my friends and family. However, even this is tricky as more and more I lash out or gripe at those around me without meaning to. Talk about a ticking time bomb.

The good news from all of this is that the treatment is doing what it is supposed to. My white blood cell count has dropped dramatically from what it was - we are practically at half of normal levels now - and the inflammation around my intestines has decreased, likely allowing for more absorption of vitamins and nutrients. One the other side, this means that each day is becoming significantly harder than the one before it. Because of this, I was grateful for what is likely to be one of my last strong days for awhile.

This past Saturday was a wash due to hospital treatments, but on Sunday I was feeling strong enough to venture up to Divide, Colorado to hike the Horse-thief and Pancake Rock trail with a friend. Roughly 8 miles total, this trail was more difficult than I had intended and I was exhausted by the end of it, even with breaks every few minutes. However, the views were spectacular and it was a nice chance to get away from Colorado Springs.

We got back mid-afternoon and although all I wanted to do was sleep I managed to meet Norman for brunch at a local restaurant that has an entirely gluten free menu. Nomnomnom. Even with the low appetite I managed to work my way through one of the best pieces of french toast I have had in a long time. It was nice to just sit and talk, particularly since we hadn't seen much of each other due to travel conflicts.

Norman bonding with the mountain lion.

However, the day was just getting started at this point. Norman surprised me by recommending we go to the zoo, something that has been on my list since I moved here. On the car ride over I wondered if I could actually manage the entire zoo at that point, but there is something about certain people in my life that makes me feel stronger just being with them. In the end, it was an amazing day and I am so glad we went. I may have come home exhausted and gone right to bed, but it was something that made me feel better and still makes me smile, as tired as I am. Sometimes, it's worth the exhaustion to eek out a good day in advance of so many rough ones.

Probably the best giraffe exhibit I have seen.

Also. They had otters. If you have ever been to a zoo with me you know that means case closed on a good day. Almost as awesome as seals.

The beaver trying to escape.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Are you all in?

Are you all in? At first it seems like a fairly simple question, but when my coach posed it to me three months ago, it did not seem very simple at all. I will confess, at the time he asked me it had absolutely nothing to do with training or my recent diagnosis and everything to do with the fact that someone important to me was possibly leaving for longer than I had expected. Mark is often more psychologist than coach and at that time he had some background that provided some desperately needed perspective. His question, “Are you all in?” was enough to make me realize that not matter what I would make the situation work.  I already knew the answer; I was all in and had been since the very first day, I just didn't realize it.

Fast-forward to a week ago and this question kept rolling through my mind as I was given the RCD diagnosis. During the course of the day I had been given lots of advice, things like “make sure you get plenty of sleep” or, “you should eat more”. Both of these are great, but when side effects of the RCD drugs include insomnia and loss of appetite, these are not under my control. Are you all in? Now that was under my control. That was something I could focus on.

The afternoon of my diagnosis, I bought new running shoes. My way of trying not to give in.

Being all in means not giving up, it means not pausing to let fear keep you from chasing what you want – the risks, a broken heart or in this case the possibility of Type I becoming Type II, are secondary. This has been further broken down into two more pieces of advice that I have received.

The first is simple. Don’t blink. Know that you stood in front of the monster without fear, screaming into oblivion. Blinking is giving something power over you; just that moment of pause is enough for fear to take root.  Easier said than done, but it is one of those pieces of advice that serves more as a pep talk than actual advice. Sometimes you need a pep talk.

The second is more practical. Make the good days great. From what I have been told, particularly in regards to the side effects of the medication cocktail I am on, it will get worse before it gets better. There will be days where I feel like I am fine, and there will be days where even getting out of bed is a struggle. Since there is no storing up energy for a rainy day, it is better to take the days that I feel fine and make them great, something to smile about on the bad days.

Speaking of making the good days great, I had my first event as Race Director this last weekend. Running the collegiate track race for the RMCCC was an absolute pleasure, and reminded me why I came to Colorado in the first place. 

I had initially targeted five cyclo-cross races for this fall, but those are out the door (USADA violations if I was to race with the drug cocktail, not to mention the fact that my immune system is currently being intentionally broken). I had planned on running a half marathon with my brother while home over Christmas, and I am signed up for my first marathon in May (eep!). Those may not be in the cards right now, but I’m not changing my plans yet in the hopes that it will give me something to work for. Ask me in a month and maybe things will be different, but for now I’m trying not to blink. I hiked/ran six miles with my friend Tasha yesterday at Section 16, and today there was barely enough energy to get me to the mailbox and back.

This was in part because today was my first day on the full cocktail of medications for Refractory Celiac Disease. Because so few people are diagnosed with RCD, it is very much trial and error in terms of dosage, which has made the last week less than fun. However, when I got home I found a box at the door, and inside was a Hulk action figure. It even says HULK SMASH! Sometimes, it’s the little things that make the bad days okay.

So for now, there is no training plan but listening to my body. The only weekly schedule I have is four words long. Are you all in?

HULK SMASH! From Kurt. Literally the best thing from today. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Upbeat

I did not want to put up the doom and gloom diagnosis post without putting something a bit more upbeat up as well. With summer winding down the weeks have been flying! During the course of this mad dash towards fall I ran my first half-marathon as part of my 100 Before 25 goal. As a self-proclaimed plodder when it comes to running this was something I wanted to do to force myself out of my comfort zone. It worked.

Yup. I have some pretty awesome people in my life. 

After four months of running I found myself standing with a bunch of other crazy people at 6:30am. I can only assume it was some sort of group insanity that occurred when each of us hit the sign-up button. Insanity aside though, I had a blast! I managed to keep a very even pace for 3/4 of the race and it seemed to be the perfect course as it followed the Santa Fe trail upriver. Between friends near the halfway point, and a coworker running the last bit with me I had plenty of support and managed to finish with a smile on my face!

How can you NOT smile when you have a Nemo balloon?

ADT marked exactly six months since I moved to Colorado. I have been so fortunate to have made some amazing friends since moving, and life out here would be so completely different without them. On top of such great friends there has been adventures galore, a job I love and some great riding (crashing). The next six months are likely to be crazy due to lots of travel for work and dealing with RCD but I can not wait to see what Colorado has in store!

Colorado Balloon Festival, a true sign that fall is coming. Also likely the last one. 

Adjective: Refractory

I heard the doctor, but what did he say?
I knew I was fine about this time yesterday.
I don’t need answers
I just need some peace
– Ben Rector, When a Heart Breaks

Have you ever considered the power of an adjective? You are not just an athlete; you are fast, slow, good and bad. Adjectives judge. The food at your local taco stand is spicy, the guy you are dating is wonderful, the puppy at the park is adorable.  Adjectives are watercolors over a pencil drawing.

I recently learned even more about the power of adjectives and their ability to bring questions and fear.  My freshman year of college (forever ago it seems) I was diagnosed with celiac disease, common knowledge to those of you reading this. Not ideal timing but I made it work and for me following a gluten free diet stopped the autoimmune reactions. In the process I gained a lot of strength I never realized was missing and managed to take training and racing up a notch. However, recently this trend reversed and I started to see significant red flags in my blood chemistry. Vitamin D levels reached a low of 4 then 2ng/mL several months ago and soon many other vitamin and mineral levels followed. Numerous tests, hypothesis and scans later revealed a new adjective.

Refractory. Meaning difficult to control or deal with. What it means to me is that, for some reason doctors cannot figure out, my celiac disease has decided not to be managed by a gluten free diet alone anymore, leading to a flare up. Refractory Celiac Disease. Now there is a scary adjective, one that hides in the closet at night and keeps you awake with shadows.

I’ll leave out the nitty gritty of the treatment plan, but it does include a cocktail of drugs that will pretty much murder my immune system in an attempt to reset the autoimmune reaction. Supposedly exercise may not be an option, and racing is out even before the whole USADA issue is factored in. Apparently I will have quite the Bruce Banner/Hulk dichotomy going on. The ability to leap buildings, fight monsters and pick up buses? Yeah, I’m hoping that comes out of this. HULK SMASH!

Long story short, I think I underestimated celiac disease. It is not a fad diet, a weight loss success story or a juice cleanse. It is an autoimmune disease that can and will damage your body with the same tools used to protect it. I won’t make the mistake of underestimating it again.  

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Ten Lessons From Colorado

One thousand miles stand between my townhome in Colorado Springs and the quiet cul-de-sac that I grew up on. Most days it seems farther though, something to do with the mountains I suppose, or perhaps it has more to do with how different I am from the person that grew up in the corner bedroom with the blue walls and overflowing bookshelves.

With nine years between my brother and I, I was always the baby of the family. I am not sure if this led to my odd mix of complete stubbornness and complete inability to make up my mind sometimes but I suspect it had something to do with it. Boarding school, working in an underwater science laboratory, the Lindenwood cycling team, skeet shooting and digging for crayfish all made for a rather odd life map. I am fairly certain that my resume would cause major question marks and blank stares in the corporate world.

My brother was the guy with the plan who knew exactly what he wanted and I always admired him for that. I was the one who went from environmental science, to business school; from finishing a Masters of Science to working on an MBA, and yet looking back it all fit perfectly together to get me here. Colorado has changed me a lot in the last few months. I will not say I have learned to listen because I still talk more than I should (duct tape was the family joke), but I have learned a fair bit and most of it has been due to listening.

1. Sometimes things work out perfectly; sometimes you have to fight to make something work out. If it works out, it is meant to be.

2. Time is precious. Spend it on something you are passionate about; jobs are not excluded from this.

3. Never underestimate the capacity of something to survive.

4. Not enough people stop to listen to the silence.

5. Even in the worst of storms you can probably still see the sun somewhere.

6. It is okay to take a step back when chasing a dream. Rest and recovery will get you three steps ahead. (Also known as, fall down seven times, stand up eight) 

7. Others will have opinions. Opinions of friends should be valued but it is still your decision.

8. Drinking is not any more fun than it was in college, just more expensive and tiring.

9. You do not always win, particularly with Olympians around. However, that does not mean you should not race.

10. There should be one moment every day that makes you stop in your tracks and realize how lucky you are.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Resiliency, it's in the water

"No athlete is truly tested until they've stared an injury in the face and come out the other side stronger than ever."

No, I am not injured again. Well, not unless you count the numerous bruises I seem to have accumulated attempting to get better at mountain biking.

I am not injured but the last few months have felt very similar to coming back from my knee injuries a couple years ago. Anger, denial, acceptance, and finally my purely stubborn nature have all played a part in my return to training and racing, as well as Colorado. Colorado, the people I have met and the places I have been have all kept me going.

I am not sure if it is something in the water, or something in the people I have met but resiliency seems to abound here. There are the big examples like marathon runners fighting back from injury to take a personal course record, friends taking 4th in their first ever marathon, and injured veterans finding the strength to compete on the velodrome when they have not ridden a bike since they were little. These are all amazing but I also find beauty even in the small examples of resiliency that we so often pass by, like flowers growing seemingly from rocks and finding the strength to bloom when everything in nature is going against them. It wraps around me, inspiring, lifting me up and encouraging me to keep going; telling me to run one more mile, to try and climb the technical portion on the trail one more time even when my body is screaming at me to stop, go home, eat ice cream and lay on the couch. When it comes down to it I am not the injured veteran, and I am not a flower growing from rocks so where do I have room to complain, to give up? 

Sometimes, it is the little things that you see.

It took a bit of a kick from a friend, but I finally bit the bullet and got back into racing. This past Tuesday was the opening night of racing at the 7-11 OTC Velodrome and I could not be happier with how it went. I finished 1st, 2nd and field finishes in the Chariot, Snowball and Points races respectively. While the race results are nice, it is the training I am most proud of. Last week I recorded 14 hours of training and this week looks like it will come in close to the same. While nowhere near the twenty hour weeks I was completing last year, it is progress. Training is finally fun again and I am having the most fun on a bike that I have had since Snake Alley last year.

Speaking of Snake Alley, the elder Palmer did well at the Memorial Day races, posting multiple podium finishes. Calling home was bittersweet because as happy as I am for his successes, I miss road trips for racing with my dad. He has been there for every major race of my career and I miss his perspective and companionship as a training partner. Riding solo gets lonely, though I am meeting more cyclists here. 

Territory Days!

Monday the roommate and I hit up territory days in Old Colorado City, kind of like the 4th street festival with MUCH better people watching opportunities. I'm talking rainbow hair and people walking around with machetes. Exploring Colorado Springs has been a blast and I've made a lot of progress on the 100 before 25 list I made back in January. On my radar for completing next? The incline, and a half marathon that I signed up for in September, as well as continuing to chip away at some of the larger goals! 

I do the cooking in our apartment,  which should come as no surprise. Nomnomnom.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Reset: A New Path

So. Clearly it has been awhile.

If you are reading this you probably have been following me on Facebook or Twitter. You probably know that I recently had some major life changes, for the better but still a major change.

My front row call-up at the Collegiate Cyclo-cross National Event.

After cyclo-cross nationals (where the Lindenwood team finished 4th on the team podium, and my teammates did amazingly well while I suffered through the end of my cyclo-cross season) I took some time to try and come down from my burnout. My 100 before 25 was one of the ways that I was trying to achieve this and while they are goals that I am still trying to achieve it was not terribly successful. The closer the collegiate road season got the less I wanted to look at my bike, and it hurt to not enjoy something that had been such a large part of my life the last five years, including the injuries.

My parents and I took a week down in Florida and seeing some old friends in St. Augustine and riding with the cycling group down there went a long way towards helping, but I still was not inspired like I was when I was doing well this past summer. During that time a job at USA Cycling was posted and I applied for it under the assumption that the process would be good for me but it was unlikely that I would be hired due to the fact that I was still in school. This was the beginning of February with the 2014 road season weeks away.

The view from Florida, St. Augustine will always hold a place in my heart. I miss the ocean!

To my surprise I got through the entire interview process and the further I got the more I realized how amazingly this job fit to my set of skills and experiences. It was truly something that I got excited about in terms of researching and preparing for, and when I was offered the job I knew I would have no other response but yes. A whirlwind of a week later I moved out to Colorado Springs, Colorado to start as the new Interscholastic and Club Development Coordinator while finishing up my MBA online at Lindenwood.

I thought that leaving the Lindenwood team and particularly the Midwest was going to be one of the hardest things I ever did. I competed in the season opener at Lindsey Wilson, and I kid you not I got a little teary eyed as the bus pulled out to head back to St. Louis. In all honesty though, this move has probably been the best decision I have ever made for myself.

The Lindenwood Lady Lions at the Lindsey Wilson season opener. Some of the best teammates a girl could ask for!

I am in a job I love, that supports collegiate cycling which has had one of the biggest impacts in my development as a cyclist and as a person. It allows me to help others experience the same opportunities that I have had and give back to the sport that has given so much to me. In addition to this it has taken the pressure off of me and reminded me why I love riding my bike. I bought a mountain bike upon moving and have recently been running, weightlifting and riding almost every day, and have managed to consistently ride over two hours and even run more than five miles for the first time in my life. The biggest thing is that I am healthy again.

Moving has been hard, I will not lie. While I know people at work, meeting people in Colorado has been difficult since I have not started racing again. While I have met people through the local velodrome, and through community activities (I have been taking Spanish classes at the library, pilates, yoga, and even ballet again), it is hard when you are no longer in a collegiate environment. However, “the Springs” makes it easy in that there is always something going on and amazing riding right outside my door. I have an amazing roommate and have started to make some friends with people.

My favorite ride so far, up Gold Camp to where it turns into a dirt climb and down Cheyenne!

I guess the biggest lesson this has taught me, is not to be afraid of what is to come, and not to discredit myself. I used to think there was no way I could ever get a job, I was terrified of having my MBA and moving back in with my parents. Instead I will have a job and my MBA this fall. I told myself there was no way I could ever run more than three miles, and now I am planning on running a half marathon in September.

I have been in Richmond for Collegiate Road National events the last few days and one of the pro riders said something at the banquet that struck me as very applicable to my life recently “Don’t be afraid to create your own path, cycling opens doors for you that you may never have expected.”

From environmental science major, to varsity athlete, to employee this was not a path I expected, but for now it is where I am and could not be happier. I will still be riding, so look for me on a bike; I seem to be getting fast again!

Hanging out at Palmer Park on the new mountain bike!