Bushtukah S.W.E.E.T Night

Last night it happened. I gave my talk at Bushtukah S.W.E.E.T night.

S.W.E.E.T night is a pretty big night in the Ottawa sporty women domain. The event sold out in less than one week – this was with zero promotion. Over 500 tickets – with no advertisements or super intense social media campaigning.

You know you’re onto something good when this happens. Right up until the event started last night there were ladies posting on the SWEET Facebook page looking for tickets.

This is fantastic. It also made me a bit nervous.

  1. I was giving a talk.
  2. I was giving it to over 500 women.
  3. This event has a long history of outstanding speakers.
  4. I function best behind a computer screen.
  5. I had never done this before. (Junior Toastmasters does not count.)

The last few weeks have really been all about March 31st and speaking at SWEET.

Thanks to my brother Gregory who put in so much time helping me refine my talk and giving me truly professional public speaking coaching, I was well-prepared.

Marc, my husband had to sit through many rehearsals of my speech and hear me stress about the night and even answer questions about which pants I should wear.

I could not have gotten up there last night without Gregory and Marc believing in me. As well, a huge thanks to my mother-in-law, Annette, for coming over and listening to a rehearsal. Her feedback really helped me feel more settled about the evening.

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This green binder has been my security blanket for the last 4 weeks or so. Each version of the speech (at last count I revised my speech 6 times) was carefully hole-punched and placed in this binder.

And last night, this trusty green binder helped me stand up and speak to over 500 women about resetting.

To give you an idea of how big last night was, here are a few photos from the night. The place was packed and the energy was contagious.

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The night was very special. I was super lucky to have some very good friends there last night to support me, help me calm my nerves, and to be ready to give me cues if I was speaking too fast.

It’s kind of hard to explain the energy of the evening.

Imagine over 500 women out on a Sunday night and add in amazing door prizes (including 2 bikes and I don’t know how many pairs of running shoes and high-end pieces of clothing), a fashion show, free food, shopping, and a sense of community.

Stir this up with a big spoon and add in a bunch of amazing clubs and groups who came out to encourage all these ladies to sign up for cycling, trail running, nordic walking, triathlon, roller derby, and any other activity you can think of.

This resulted in a festive, supportive, encouraging, empathetic, and contagious atmosphere.

I’m super honoured to have been able to be part of the night and to share my story.

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A big thank you to all the ladies who contacted me and posted comments on the SWEET Facebook page. Your messages and feedback really have put a boost in my spirits and confidence.

I know there were a lot of people who weren’t able to get tickets or attend last night. There isn’t a video of my talk but I did put my speaking notes and slide images into a document.

It’s a long read but my hope is that at the by the end of it you will: find your reset button and have learned the power of a support system, focussing on controlling the controllables, and in believing in yourself.

A big thank you to Charlotte, Judy, Natasha, and the rest of the Bushtukah team who I met last night. You put on a great night. Thank you for letting me be part of it.

……

On another note, I’ve decided to take part in the #The100dayproject. My plan is to sketch 100 flowers – one per day. The #The100dayproject is about creativity but this can be anything – sketching, writing, singing, photography, communicating, movement – really whatever you want it to be.

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I’ll be sharing my flower sketches on my Instagram account. If you sign up, tag me so I know and I’ll follow you.

The last time I posted, I wrote about turning a corner. And I have to say that I really feel like this has happened.

Last night would never have happened 3 months ago or this time last year.

I count myself as one of the lucky ones.

 

 

 

Turning a Corner

A few weekends ago, I felt like I had turned a corner with my health. But, I didn’t want to jinx my good fortune with being overly optimistic. So I held back.

I really tried not to cram too much into my days. To not get over zealous with my happily reawakened energy and spirit.

Good news – it wasn’t a fluke. I truly am feeling so much more like my regular self. I don’t have the same super high energy levels I had in 2017 and before the year that was 2018 – but I’m much closer than I’ve been in a long while.

I’m riding my bike regularly. I’m getting out on my fat bike on the good winter days. I’m back to yoga. I’m back to lifting weights. I’m back to my drawing. I’m getting out and seeing friends. I have the attention span to focus on reading again.

I’m no longer spending hours just sitting. I’m behind on my Netflix watch list. I’ve got lots of unread articles open in my multiple browser windows.

So yeah, a corner has been turned. Thank goodness. It’s a relief really. As a chronically ill person, I sometimes doubt my ability to get out of the malaise and lingering sensations of feeling unwell.

I know well enough now to be tread lightly and to not go bonkers with doing stuff.

On another note, in a few weeks I’m doing something I’ve never done before. I’m going to be speaking at Bushtukah’s SWEET night on March 31st.

This means I’ve been spending lots of time writing my speech, practicing my speech, and rewriting my speech. I’m super honoured and a little freaked out about speaking to 500 women. But, I know it’s a super beneficial experience – for me and the naked women sitting in the audience.

Learn more about Sporty Women Encouraging and Empowering Together (SWEET) and buy your tickets. If you come out, definitely grab me before or after my talk to say hi and chat.

Well, that’s about all I’ve got. I hope things are going as well with you as they are for me right now. Fingers crossed we can all be so fortunate.

Okay, 2019, So Far You’re Good

So we’re a month and a bit into 2019 and I have to say that things are turning a corner.

The shingles appears to finally behind me. My left eye did not come out of the ordeal completely unscathed but the damage is not too critical.

The uveitis also appears to be in the rearview mirror. I finished the Prednisone on Sunday and so far so lucky – no rebound flare.

So yeah, the health problems that dragged me down and put in me in a not great place at the end of 2018 and start of 2019 are now just a memory.

The thing with memories though is that they often leave a scar. I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that I’ve got a few extra scars. The emotional scars that come with a roller coaster of being chronically ill are ones that I don’t think ever go away.

For me, the biggest scar is the fear of the unknown. What will happen next? Does the pain in my chest mean something serious or is it just indigestion? Is the pain in my stomach that wakes me up a blockage or something worse? What about these constant cramps in my calf muscles – is this just fatigue or a sign of something more? What is going to happen as I begin to increase my riding and get back to yoga? Will my body rebel and put me back in bed?

Trust is huge. And this is what I don’t have. I don’t trust my body. This body that I’ve tried to treat with the best care I can give it. A decent diet, no smoking, no drinking, regular sleep, steady exercise habits, and a generous amount of chocolate. It seems like I’m doing it all right – but for some reason my body feels otherwise.

So what do I do to overcome this fear of the unknown so I can rebuild my trust? Good question. I don’t know. All I can do, I suppose is just keep on keeping on. I’m getting pretty good at picking myself up. So this is what I’ll do the next time. And yes, I do believe there will be a next time.

What I can do is remember that today is a good day. That yesterday was a good day. And that there is a high likelihood tomorrow will be a good day. This way I can keep up the hope and slowly rebuild myself.

Admittedly, I feel this is all a bit self-centred. I am, after all not dealing with a diagnosis that sees me counting my days and months.

Last week Paul Dewar died. I did not know Mr. Dewar. However, the words posted on his Facebook page after his death from Grade 4 glioblastoma, have imprinted on me:

“…

It is easy sometimes to feel overwhelmed by the gravity of the challenges we face. Issues like climate change, forced migration and the threat posed by nuclear weapons. It’s hard to know how to make a difference.

The secret is not to focus on how to solve the problem, but concentrate on what you can contribute – to your country, your community and neighbours.

…”

I urge you to read Mr. Dewar’s full post and think about how you are making a difference.

I think it’s important to remember that the difference Mr. Dewar speaks of doesn’t need to be earth-changing. The small acts that you do each day when you interact with your family, friends, colleagues, and strangers are the ones that really make a difference.

Talking to a stranger as you stand waiting for the bus. Asking someone who looks sad if they’re okay. Picking up the phone and calling your friends just to chat. Remembering that everyone is dealing with something. Know that the little things do add up.

Not to leave this post on a sad note, I want you to think of these words left to us by two young women who recently died:

“…

I decided not to spend whatever time I had left (whether it’s a year, a month, another ten years—you don’t know until you’re gone) lamenting all the things that weren’t right. Instead, I’d make the most of it. I’m using cancer as the excuse I needed to actually go and get things done, and the more people I share those thoughts with, the more I hold myself to them. If I write this intention down, if I have it printed somewhere like I do here, I have to hold myself responsible, because I have people counting on me.

What is my intention? To live my life. To fulfill all those genuine dreams I have.

…” Fatima Ali,  who died in January at the age of 29 from cancer

“…

Live while you’re living, friends.

We control the effort we put into living.

…” From The Unwinding of the Miracle, A Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything That Comes After by Julie Yip-Williams

So now what? What do I do next? What do you do next?

For me – I talk to the strangers, I pick up the phone, I eat the cake and don’t worry about the calories, I plan for the future, I offer help, I listen, I keep on setting goals and doing all the things I long to do.

I owe this to myself. I owe this to you. I owe this to the people who can’t do what I can.

See Ya 2018

The thing is, the last two weeks and a bit have been a bit rough. Yes, you guessed it – I’m sick again. What started with a slightly irritated eye turned into anterior uveitis which them morphed into shingles on my forehead, scalp, and left eye.

This is the opposite of fun. And to be honest, this recent bout of sickness nearly broke me. I was finally pushed to my point of no return. Never before have I said to Marc, “I feel like I’m dying“.

It wasn’t the pain that made me say this. It was the feeling of giving up. Giving up the fight against this body of mine that seems to hate me.

I really was optimistic with the start of 2018 that once I had my final surgery, the health problems would be over. This simply is not the case. I haven’t felt well since August. Something is off, but according to my blood work, everything is normal.

When doctors keep telling me that there is no indication that there is a problem, it begins be a bit hard to hear. I guess I’m imagining my fatigue, the breathlessness, the small intestine pain, the blockages, the racing heart rate, and the general feeling of being unwell.

And now, still after the acute peritonitis and this crazy storm of uveitis (likely thanks to a funky little gene called HLAB-27) and shingles – I’m still considered to be healthy.

So yeah, now I feel like my body is winning this battle. I try to do everything right – eat healthy, exercise regularly, keep my stress low, get adequate sleep, etc., etc.

But it’s not working. I can’t stop the battle that my body is waging.

Normally this is when I write about looking forward or being optimistic or doing the best with what I have. I can’t write this anymore. I don’t feel this. I’m at the point where hope just seems to end in disappointment and sadness.

So now, I’ve accepted that it is what it is. After nine years on this sickness train, I’m okay with it. This is how it is going to be for me. Better than me than you – I know how to handle it.

I realize this post could be considered to be a bit of a downer – don’t worry. I’m okay. I’m in a new place. I have finally admitted to myself that there is nothing I can do to stop the chaos that is happening in my body. It really is out of my control.

Fortunately, thanks to 2018 Boston Marathon winner, Des Linden, I have a good quote to think of in times like these, “All I can do is control the controllables“.

 

Only Option is Forward

Two weeks ago I was in the hospital. I thought I was just going in for a quick trip to the ER to get my intense stomach and pelvis pain sorted out. I did not expect to stay until Thursday afternoon.

So many doctors. So many questions. So much pressing and poking of my abdomen. So many blood draws and two CT scans. This was all on Tuesday. At this point, Marc was still supposed to be getting on a plane the next day to fly to Belgium.

This all changed when the doctor started asking me about my living will and my end-of-life directives. This is when shit got real. Turns out that I had acute peritonitis. You can Google this if you want. Let me just tell you it’s bad. 40% of people who get this die from it.

Those days in the hospital were crazy and intense.

And now, here I sit, two weeks later. The pain in my abdomen, pelvis, and the area where my rectum used to be finally eased off on Saturday. (Yes, three days ago.)

I don’t know what caused the acute peritonitis. I saw doctors from the gastro team, the medicine team, the general surgery team, and the gynaecological team – no one could tell me why I got sick. It’s a mystery.

What is not a mystery is that life is for the living.

So now, it’s forwards and upwards. I don’t know why I got sick. I do know that never want to experience pain like that ever again (the pain caused me to faint and crash land on the floor).

But this is the past. I live in the here and now. So now I get back to life. I was sick, and now I’m not. End of story.

On Repeat

I feel like I’ve written a version of this blog post so many times before. It’s the post that goes something like this: okay there’s a big pile of lemons but it’s time to make lemonade and I can’t sit around waiting for something to change, if I want progress and to be whole again, I have to be the change, I have to be the one inspiring me.

Yep, I’ve written very similar words many times before. All those times before I was in the thick of racing my cyclocross bike and had big goals I was aiming for. Back then I was bound and determined that I wouldn’t let little barriers like chronic illness stop me. In fact, at the time, this was just the extra fuel I needed to convince myself that anything is possible.

Now, it’s a bit different. I’m not that same bike rider anymore. I’m not that same person anymore. Now, the bike for me is something that I ride for fun. I want to ride and long and hard. I want to ride my ‘cross/road bike, my mountain bike, and my fat bike. I want it to be fun.

This is the time to put a new record on the record player. No more repeating the same old words about lemons. Now, here at the age of 46 with a huge dose of perspective and life experience, the training, the riding, and the racing mean something different for me.

I want to ride. I want to get stronger. I want to lift weights. I want whole body fitness. I want to be outside. I want to enjoy what I’m doing. I want to do it because it feels good that day. I want to be comfortable in my skin and spandex on the bike.

Yeah, I think this is a pretty good place to be. Tomorrow is a brand new start. I start with heaving some dumbbells around in the basement. I get going with some structured bike riding. I commit to my yoga practice. I do some new stuff like walking in the woods and slowing myself down. I get myself ready for a great winter of long fat bike rides. In between all of this I remember that there is a huge life away from sport that includes things like pottery class, drawing, movies, books, delicious food, traveling, and exploring this city fully.

It’s kind of exciting. I’ve got to admit it. I think this time around, it just took me some extra time to find myself again. And now, I’m keen to see what’s next – gravel riding, more technical mountain biking, riding up big mountains and eating croissants, bunnyhopping curbs, and maybe a few drawings about bikes – really whatever I want.

 

Lingering

I’ve had this gnawing pull to write a blog post for a few days now. The only problem is, there’s simply not much to say.

I’ve been riding a bit – not as much as I’d like. I’ve signed up for another pottery class. I’m doing the local cyclocross series around Ottawa on Sunday mornings. I’m slowly teaching myself to draw thanks to a very well-written and illustrated book. I had a silly fall on my mountain bike last weekend and sprained my thumb. That’s really about it.

I kind of feel like I’m just lingering. Waiting for things to happen or even turn around. The lack of control that comes with the long-term status quo of lingering can be tiresome and unnerving. The not knowing and the weariness of wondering if it will ever end can be a lot to manage.

When it gets to this point – the point where I am now, I get fed up. I feel the need for action and for something to happen. Normally, I would tell myself “right then get up and do it then”. But I can’t do this. I’ve got something new keeping me at a standstill – fear.

Fear of not knowing what could happen. I’m used to riding and training. I’m used to feeling alive through my ability to sweat and suffer. But this is coming with a heavy price right now. So what is a person supposed to do? I’m about ready to say “to heck with it – let’s get back on the two-wheeled horse and start moving forward”.

If not for my physical health, but for my mental health. This waiting for results and waiting for phone calls about doctor’s appointments in the distant future is no way to get through the day. Yes, there are days when I’m so tired that I can’t walk up the stairs without being winded and needing a little sit down. But then there are the days when I feel like I could ride for hours and hours.

It’s time for compromise. Time to live fully on the days when I can and time to take the extra nap on the days when I need it.

And no, I can’t find other ways to live fully. A full life for me means I ride my bike. This might not make sense to you. Well, think about that thing that you do that gives you a full life. Now, take it away. How do you feel? Exactly. Now you understand why this lingering cannot continue.