3-Year Stomaversary

It’s a pretty big day around here today. Actually today, August 8th and yesterday, August 7th are pretty damn big days in my life.

On August 7th, Marc and I celebrated our 15-year wedding anniversary. Wow! We were together for 10 years before we got married. 25 years! Amazing.

And today, August 8th is my 3-year stomaversary. Three years ago on August 8, 2016 I had my colon removed and was gifted Reset (my stoma) by a very smart surgeon and talented surgical team.

To say that August 8th wouldn’t have happened without August 7th is putting it mildly. I would not be here right now writing this if it wasn’t for Marc. This man has put his life on hold countless times to take care of me and to support me in chasing my goals. I’m truly overwhelmed when I think of the sacrifices he’s made for me.

It can’t be easy to love someone with a chronic  illness. I’m the lucky one – I don’t know what it’s like to see my favourite person crying, hurting, and truly wanting to give up. Sadly, Marc has gone through this.

The best thing about August 8, 2016 was that this all stopped. Yes, there were some blips and low points, particularly in late 2018 and early 2019, but I do believe that we’ve turned a corner now.

I feel good. I feel great. Life is good. There are still a few bumps and niggles, but together, Marc and I can get through anything. How lucky are we to have one another?

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So, three years with a stoma. Three years living with a pouch attached to my abdomen, Three years living with my small intestines sticking out of my stomach. Kind of rad really.

As my dear friend Blanche said to me on Tuesday after a 72 km bike ride, “Three years? And look at you – you have a whole new life!”

It’s true I really do. I no longer feel any limitations. Okay, truth – I haven’t taken a bath since my surgery nor have I gone swimming. But this is the year – I’m going to do both – you make sure to hold me accountable!

This morning I played hooky from work and went out to my favourite place for a fun 2 hour cruise on my mountain bike. It’s so hard for me to describe how free I feel riding at Larose Forest.

This morning was extra special – there was no one else there. I rode for a solid 90 minutes before I saw another person. It was just me, the birds, chipmunks, and the trees. Doesn’t get much better.

Something about being in nature truly helps settle me. I feel less rushed. I feel zero pressure to ride hard, fast, or whatever. I’m just there on my bike – totally free.

I took these on my favourite trail – trail #6. There is a point on this trail where the MTB track meanders through huge trees. It always feels super calm when I get to this part of the trail. It’s hard for me to explain, but I feel so at peace on this section of the trail.

Three years!!! I feel like I’m just getting started. I hope Marc is ready for whatever happens next – ha ha!

Breathing In

It’s Sunday, the last day of my week-long vacation. My plan was to go mountain biking today. Last night I got my gear organized, filled up the Camelbak, set the alarm for a shiny 5:30, and went to bed looking forward to riding at Larose Forest.

And now here I sit at 8:37 in the morning. Not riding. I barely slept last night. My lower legs kept me awake. I was restless. At around 4:00 this morning, I turned off my alarm.

Doing this stirred up a lot of conflicted emotions. This is not something I do. I decide to go mountain  biking – so I go mountain biking. Never before would I let a little thing like feeling tired stop me from getting out and having fun. But this is a new time.

In fact this entire week off has been a new experience for me. It started with the hiking weekend in New Hampshire. I returned home on Monday with lots of plans to ride everyday and to get out and really enjoy my city.

Well, remember a few months ago when I spoke about the ability to reset and controlling your controllables? These key tenets ruled my week off. I realized I was too tired from the weekend away to do what I had planned.

I was forced to adjust. Instead of the riding everyday plan – I rode twice. I did have a great day downtown wandering the Byward Market and spending lots of time enjoying the National Gallery of Canada. And the rest of the week? I chilled out. I slept in, I hung out with friends, I did a lot of sketching, and there was a side trip to the dentist.

So yeah, not what I had planned. And to top it off, I decided not to do the Gravel Guys event this past Saturday and I sold my entry to Rooted Vermont next weekend.

This is new for me. Normally I make plans, set goals, and build my life around them. Not now. Maybe this is a sign of a big transition period for me. It’s been really hard for me to move from cycling as training to cycling as pure enjoyment. For a long time my life was attached to performance and getting the most out of my body – this determined ever aspect of my life.

It has taken hanging out with people who aren’t knee deep in cycling culture for me to realize how this is no longer a balanced approach for me. Nor is it what I want anymore. It’s okay if I eat the cookie (or two) and not ride my bike (even if it is a Sunday).

I’m hitting the reset button. This wasn’t the week off I had planned – but it was an important week  for me. I was forced to slow down and be okay with not always being doing things.

I’m controlling the controllables. And this means now not being tied to structure, rigid training plans, and being open to new things and people.

Life has a funny way of throwing curveballs and roadblocks – I guess the key is looking at these as opportunity and a chance to  reassess. Time to hit reset and to be okay with this.

Trying New Things

2019 is so far a pretty great year for me. I finally feel that I have my health back. The last few months have been in fact, eye-opening for me.

I truly didn’t realize how run down I had been and how I was simply relying on my will to get through each day. This might sound like an exaggeration – after all, I really didn’t miss a step after my last surgery in April 2018 – I got back to life and living fairly quickly.

I was out doing things. Living life. But it was at quarter-speed and as 2018 started to wind down, I was a fraction of my normal self. Fortunately this is all behind me and after a few challenging months at the start of the year – I feel like myself.

To celebrate my newfound health (fingers crossed), I promised myself that I would try new things in 2019.

Gravel riding and racing? Sure – I’ll try it – and yes, I used to strongly dislike it – but, it’s a new year so why not? And guess what? I enjoy it. I’ve discovered beautiful roads, pushed myself harder than I have in a long time, and been fortunate to ride with some fantastic people.

Hiking in the White Mountains? Okay, I’ll give it a go. No camping required. I’ve long been obsessed with reading memoirs of people who have thru-hiked the AT, PCT, and CDT. Besides, what could be better than being out in nature for a couple of days completely disconnected from reality?

This past weekend – it happened. I went hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The entire weekend was very well organized thanks to our amazing guides/leaders from the Appalachian Mountain Club. The accommodations at Joe Dodge Lodge and Madison Springs Hut were excellent. (No tents required!) The people in our group were diverse, interesting, and inspiring. The nature was stunning. The views from Madison Springs Hut were outstanding.

But, about that hiking. Yeah, not a fan. The terrain of the Valley Way Trail pushed me far outside my comfort zone. To a spot I haven’t been to in a very long time. It takes a lot to make me feel afraid and lack confidence. This trail did it. There were tears. The hike up to Madison Springs Hut on Saturday and the descent on Sunday to the trailhead were not my top experiences.

However, I did it. I got through it. I was slow. I was cautious. I was afraid. I was nervous. But I was in nature. And now I know that hiking is not for me. This is okay. I’m cool with this.

This is all part of living. Trying new things. Discovering what I enjoy and what I don’t. Now, I don’t want to make the weekend sound horrible. It was still really great. Meeting new people, being at Madison Springs Hut, and just having a get-away were all major pluses.

The lingering question now is – what will I try next in 2019?

I think the best thing I can do is keep my eyes, ears, and soul open. Keep looking. Keep seeing. Keep listening. Keep hearing. Keep feeling. This is how I’ll discover new challenges, experiences, people, and opportunities.

 

Who?

Who.

This is a word I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

Who am I? Who do I want to be? Who can I be?

I’m not sure what sparked this ruminating. Okay, I think I do – Facebook…. yes, the dreaded Facebook popped up a memory on June 25th that reminded me that on June 25th, 2018 I went for my first bike ride after my most recent surgery.

I knew the day was coming, but I couldn’t really remember when. Well, geez when I saw the photos of my grinning face so happy to be out on my city bike riding very slowly and gingerly along a gravel path – I felt all the feels.

This memory got me thinking about who I am today. I used to really identify as a competitive cyclist. Practically my entire social circle was made up of like-minded competitive cyclists. Cycling was what I did, thought, ate, and breathed.

So, now who am I? For a long time, I aspired to being the person I was in 2009, 2010, and in the years leading up to 2015. Someone who rode bikes. And I was focused on riding bikes hard and fast.

I tried so hard after my first surgery in 2016 to get back to being that person. I set huge goals of being on the podium at ‘cross nationals and on the podium at Masters ‘Cross Worlds. I know – huge pie-in-the-sky goals. But these made sense to me –  after all this is what I did – I set huge goals and through grit, determination, and stubbornness I accomplished them (or came very close).

This isn’t me anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I still have goals. But they’re very different. This year, my goal with cycling is to truly enjoy it. To do events I’ve never done before. To ride my bike and appreciate my ability to ride it.

Honestly, until things went really bad in late-2017 and continued until this past-February – I don’t think I really appreciated how awesome health is. I had been sick for a long time, leading up to this very recent rough patch – but I was always able to push through and grit it out.

And then all of a sudden I couldn’t. My normal tricks were no longer working. It was hard. I was sad a lot. I was disappointed a lot. I was very angry. I gave up on possibility and future.

And now, as I sit here feeling like a normal, healthy person (who is trying to pretend that ulcerative colitis is not always lurking and doing some damage to my body) – I realize how lucky I am.

My health is back. I can ride my bike everyday. I can lift weights. I can get up early and get through a day without needing a nap at 2:00 p.m. I can go out with friends and not stress about bathrooms. I can work and be productive.

My body, brain, and soul are aligned and have stopped fighting each other.

I know who I am and where I’m going. I’m a person. I’m a human being. I do lots of regular people things. But not one of these things identifies me. This allows me to really enjoy every thing that I do.

The gravel races/rides are damn hard. I’m finishing close to the bottom of the results page. This is okay. Because I can do these.

My sketching is very much a work-in-progress. Some days I can’t get the pencil to do anything. This is okay. Because I’m doing it and I’m trying.

And I’ve finally realized that it doesn’t matter what other people think of who I am. I know who I am. And I’m good with this person.

It’s funny how it took me so long to get to this. I feel very fortunate to finally be at this place.

 

Finding the Why

I’ve been doing this bike riding thing for a while now. For me, it has always been about the racing. Until now.

Now, it’s about something else. Something softer and more enticing. It’s about being out on my bike with friends. Riding with people I would never had the opportunity to ride with. Doing events/races/rides because they sound appealing.

And this has changed how I approach my training. For so many years, my rides were laser-focused. Each time I got on the bike I had a training or racing goal. I was so invested in prioritizing my rides and making sure I hit the wattage numbers for each workout.

I craved the structure. The calendar that told me what to do on each day. The software that told me and my coach if I was progressing at the rate we wanted.

And now here I am. I’m not that same bike rider anymore. I’m not a racer. I’m a rider. I’m a person who rides for enjoyment. But yet, I still want to do well in the events I sign up for – like the Gravel Guys series, Rooted Vermont, and the local cyclocross series.

It’s a strange place to be. One that I’m slowly getting used to. A couple of weeks ago I had a very structured workout to do. One that had me doing VO2max efforts, anaerobic capacity intervals, and microbursts. The exact workout that I craved and always wanted to do more of – the really hard workouts that had me wrestling every ounce of power out of my legs and soul.

Only thing was this time, just a few weeks ago, I found myself bored with the workout. I couldn’t understand why I was doing it. I was confused about why I was making myself hurt so much. I did the workout – but I had zero enthusiasm for it. I didn’t get the usual rush from seeing the numbers on my Garmin or feeling the ache in my legs. I couldn’t see the point in this kind of riding anymore.

And then this past weekend happened. Saturday was the Lanark-Liege Gravel Guys 75 km race and Sunday was the 120 km Ride of the Damned. A big weekend.

The course on Saturday was the opposite of what I like – hills, very steep hills, punchy climbs, and practically no flat roads. A course that had me at one point close to tears as I pulled myself over one climb and had me off and walking up three other climbs.

I went to some dark places during this ride – my brain trying to convince me to let the other women ride away and thinking some negative thoughts about bikes, gravel, and hills.

It was in the car on the way home that it all clicked. Even with the suffering – I had fun. I was proud of what I had done. I was thrilled to be able to ride with the women that I did.

This is why I need to keep doing the hard workouts. So I can go out and do these kind of events. To have the ability to get up the next day and do another long hard ride. To know that I can keep doing this when I’m 65 or 75.

Saturday gave me an entirely new perspective of what it is to be a bike rider. I’m not at the front anymore – not even close. This is okay. I’m at a different place.

But I’m still the same person – that person who strives to do her best and always wants more.

P.S. A huge thank you to the super women who invited me to do the Ride of the Damned with them. It was a fun day – even though the rain and cold got the better of us. Thank you Blanche, Lucie, Jenn, and Lisa for the day and the ride. We made the best of it and I think we all came out of it smiling.

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Post-hot chocolates in Wakefield trying to think warm thoughts. 

 

 

I Guess This Is Normal?

The other day I was walking to Starbucks and I walked passed the Gamma-Dynacare blood lab. It struck me that it had been a really long time since my last visit to do bloodwork.

Now, for all of you normal healthy people, doing bloodwork is a rare occurrence. Not for me. Depending on where I was in my health roller coaster, I had to visit every few weeks, monthly, and every three months.

This just became part of my routine. I would check-in at the lab, go to Starbucks, get a tea or chai latte, chill out for a bit, and then back to the lab for my turn giving blood. Then a couple days later, I would login to the Dynacare website so I could look at my blood results.

I don’t do this anymore. Now I just walk to Starbucks, buy a drink, and chill out. I guess this is what normal is all about.

It’s strange actually. Someone asked me the other day how my health was. And I realized I hadn’t really given my health much thought. I feel good.

My intestine is happy. My joints aren’t aching. My eye is still funky but that’s no big deal. My stoma is doing its thing. My energy levels are back. My skin is healthy. My hair isn’t falling out anymore. My liver isn’t giving me any problems.

I even gained a few pounds. Normally this would freak me out. I haven’t changed my eating and I’m exercising more than I have in a long-time. What this slight weight gain tells me is that my body is finally healed. This is a massive relief.

You know, I like this feeling of being normal. I don’t think of myself as a sick person anymore. I’m totally comfortable with Reset, my stoma and life with an ileostomy. There is really nothing holding me back from normal people life.

To celebrate this, I’m going hiking! Yes, hiking. I’ve never really hiked before. But this summer I’m doing it. Not an easy hike either. A hike in the White Mountains of New Hampshire on one of the most rugged sections of the Appalachian Trail. Pretty cool eh?

Don’t worry I’m not doing this alone. I’m going with my super pal and we’re part of a women’s only hiking weekend organized by the Appalachian Mountain Club. On Saturday we’ll hike to the Madison Spring Hut, sleep there and then hike back to the trailhead where we’ll be picked up in a van.

This is something I never ever could have done before. The stress of being away from a bathroom, the concern over getting tired, worrying about what might happen if I ended up in a bad flare, or if my joints acted up – all of these plus simple outright fear about what my body might do or not do stopped me from living a lot of life.

But now, I’m good. I can do the things that normal people do.

I truly feel so lucky to be in such good health. I know there are no guarantees with ulcerative colitis and that I have to be ready for anything.

But right now, here today – I don’t feel like a sick person. I don’t look like a sick person. I’m just like you.

What a feeling! How lucky am I?