Monday, August 24, 2009

Swim. Bike. Run.... Iron Girl

UPDATE: How could I forget this- also congrats to Dana for racing the Iron Girl. She did great, and raised a ton of money for NCCF along the way! THANK YOU DANA!!!!

Yesterday was the Iron Girl Triathlon. I am happy to say that I finished and achieved my goal of finishing in under 2 1/2 hours! I had been kinda quiet about the event over the past couple of weeks because I hadn't been able to dedicate as much training time as I wanted. And I was unsure of whether I would succeed at crossing the finish line. I just had my last session of PT last week, so I didn't run at all the whole summer. I could tell that yesterday when I got off the bike and my mind said "Go!" and my legs said "NO!".

It was a great day, and a great weekend. I spent about 2 days straight with 2 great girls- Anne & Laura Beth- and they really made the whole thing fun and an adventure. From wrangling the bikes on the top of the car, cramming 3 people in the front seat while driving back and forth all over Maryland & DC, carbo loading, going over race prep, watching people stumble home at 5 am while we were heading to the race, photo ops, seeing each other out on the course and watching them finish... we had a blast. And we're all ready to do it again!

I did the event with Team Fight, a group that supports the Ulman Fund for young adult cancer survivors. I have written about the organization in the past, and I can't say enough good things about their work and the people, who have become good friends and been so supportive of me sicne Dan's death. I was recently asked to be on their advisory board, and I couldn't be more thrilled to be involved in this cause. Every year over 70,000 young adults are diagnosed with cancer. The Ulman Fund does a great job of advocating for young adults and helping them cope with and beyond cancer. Seeing everyone out in their Team Fight jerseys yesterday and hearing all the support on the course was a huge motivator for me.

I raced for all my friends with cancer, and for those with family members as well. Hard to believe that 3 years ago I knew only 1 or 2 friends who had been impacted by the disease. Now it's dozens. I carried their names with me on a little piece of paper in a plastic bag. I also had Dan's mass card with me. I was reminded several times along the way of all the lessons I've learned from each. We all deal with cancer differently, but once it's touched you, you have such a respect and empathy for others who have gone through similar things.

The swim was ok. It was a little intimidating out there in the middle of 100 other women. Plus, I almost fainted when I realized that the bouy I thought was the turnaround point was just the first bouy. Aside from swimming massively off-course and getting my goggles kicked off by another swimmer, I had a good time. It felt pretty cool to get out of the water and run into the transition area. The bike was pretty fun as well. No problems there. The run was pretty tough. The 3.4 mile course seemed to be 80% up hill. Since I hadn't run but once the entire summer, I knew it wasn't going to be pretty. And even though I was sucking wind during the run, and was so much slower than I wanted, it was just important to keep moving and not quit. Once I hit the 2 mile marker, I was relieved. Of course there was a nice big hill to get up before the finish, but I made it. And it feels pretty cool to hear them announce your name!

But the biggest reason I did the race was for me. Yes, my training wasn't up to my normal standards. But it gave me something to focus on for me... not Dan's memory or Dan's foundation. I could truly escape into the gym or the pool all summer. There, I was just me, not someone who had experienced an a terrible loss or the girl whose fiance died from cancer. This experince- the lack of training & the injury- taught me that I can will myself to do anything. I may not be fast, but I will not quit and am not easily discouraged. I am willfully determined. I guess there is something about a triathlon that makes you feel a little bad a** (sorry for the language, but no other word would do). Go ahead world... bring it!

Here are some pictures. I was so lucky my mom came and was my photographer. And somehow she managed to spot me at each transition and right at the finish line. She gave me a great little boost every time. I have a great mom- the best!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Juggling Act

It's been a pretty exhausting few weeks. For lack of better planning, a couple of big events have hit all at the same time. First, we've been working on the scholarship program. And at the same time, trying to spread the word about the Waeger Cup in October. Add onto that a few work trips and trying to handle all of summer activities... yikes!

Since it's the first year that anyone but Dan has been in charge, I have been trying to figure everything out and make sure it goes off without a hitch. I knew a lot about NCCF, but Dan was always very adament about doing things himself because he never wanted to put anything off on me. Our scholarship applications doubled this year. I was so proud that we got a good response because it reminds me that we have a lot of work to do to help these young adult survivors who want to go to school. The need that Dan saw still exists. Of course now I want to raise more money so that we can make a bigger impact!!!! While there is a huge need for research and legislation, the beauty of NCCF is that we give out direct financial support. We know exactly who benefits from our fundraising. We know their names and stories, and can be inspired by their accomplishments. And there are so few organizations that do what we do.

We've just sent out the brochure for the Waeger Cup. I have been a little nervous because Dan wasn't the most organized person so I don't have a great distribution list. And because many people might not give without his name on an email or letter. Dan's story was so powerful. And now we need to tell his story, but also our own with respect to losing a friend, brother or son. I hope people will see that by connecting their story to Dan's, we can grow NCCF. I think we're starting to, but it's tough without Dan guiding us. But whenever I get discouraged, I think about the fact that Dan knew nothing about cancer or being a philanthropist when he was diagnosed. So we can figure it out, too. But it makes me nervous nonetheless. I am also not the best fundraiser. It is not in my nature to ask for help on anything. But, I also know that the biggest reason that people don't give is because they aren't asked!

So I've been running at full capacity. And am nowhere close to where I need to be, which is scary. Because Dan was the one who facilitated all of this last year. And he was on harsh chemo drugs and still trying to work full-time. I wonder how he did it. He just had a quiet drive. He could've asked for help or even scaled back. He could have gone on disability. That was never an option. I used to give him a hard time about not being organized enough. Right now, I wish I could just say how amazing he was. I still feel like I can't keep up with him! When I last wrote that people forgot how sick he was, it was because of what he was able to manage. And he was selfless at a time when most would need help themselves. I just hope if a few of us make just 1/10 the effort he did, we can carry the scholarship program and the golf tournament off.

For more info on the golf tournament, please visit here

PS- Just a sobering thought- I have been trying to clean out the house a little bit as NCCF has taken over. I generally haven't moved too many of Dan's things but I did decide to clean out a few things. I threw out about 30 bags of cough drops.... 30 bags that were stashed in various places. I don't miss that cough. How did he did he deal with it?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Man's Best Friend

I went on my first trip this week for work since Dan passed away. It was fine, other than my complete inability to focus in 3 hour meetings :) As usual, I picked up a book to read in the airport. It looked harmless enough... there was a dog on the cover, and it seemed like a light-hearted story about a dog, Enzo, & his family, told from the dog's point of view.

Well, wouldn't you know... about 20 pages into the book, the dog "smells" something weird whenever he is around his human mom, Eve. Turns out, she gets brain cancer and dies. Despite the "are you kidding me????" reaction, I finished the book. The remainder of the story for the dad, Denny, is much worse than anything I will ever go through (hopefully). But in the end, he triumphs.

Anyways, there was a line in the book that I thought was pretty spot on. When Eve passes away, Enzo writes "Eve's death was the end of her difficult battle. And it was the beginning of Denny's." Simple, but so true. The cancer battle doesn't end when someone's life does. There are many people, just like the people that still come to this blog, that are battling the emotional and mental scars left by the disease after their friend or loved one is gone. I think we forget about that sometimes because it's normal to be relieved when someone's death brings an end to physical suffering. We can be too quick to think that cancer has left our lives for good. As if death was a good solution. But it hits us- months & years later. However, although we love to celebrate cancer survivors, we don't really know what to do with those left behind who are still dealing with cancer.

I am continually surprised that every single cancer survivor who talks about their relationships during cancer say that it is harder on the partner or loved ones than it is on the one going through treatment. Dan thought so... he was the first to admit that he could talk to anyone with a personal diagnosis, but had no idea what to say or do for someone in my shoes. When you're the person next to the person that is sick, you don't really focus on anything in your own life, other than how the decisions you make might help or hurt an already difficult situtation. Of course the easy thing would be to say that all the attention is on the person who is ill, and the partner is just left to hold work, home, family & friends together all while living in fear that the person they love the most will be in pain or worse, leave them. But the thing I always struggled with the most is that I didn't know how Dan felt, in his life as a cancer survivor and as he neared the end of his life, someone facing death. There were things I couldn't possibly understand no matter how much I tried. There was no solution for that.

I never minded being in Dan's shadow. But aside from his cancer, Dan's personality was so magnetic and energizing, that it was also easy to be over-shadowed by him in everyday life. But I didn't mind that either. Because he had many qualities that I admired and could learn from... which is pretty rare in life. So when he died, it definitely marked the beginning of this battle for me. The battle to maintain my sanity and to make sense of what happened. The battle on his behalf to be part of the solution for many of the problems with cancer. And the battle to figure out who I am. Because if I know anything, it's not who I was.

So back to the work trip... prior to going away, we had to take one of those touchy-feely personal strength tests. I've taken them many times before, and I usually get the "analytical/intelligent/competitive" traits. So when I got the results this time, I was really surprised.

My #1 strength... positivity. My #2 strength... belief.

We were joking at the meeting that I should have become a social worker. My boss asked why I spent so much money on business school. I laughed, but it's pretty significant to me. On the one hand, I was pleased to see that after all this, my greatest strengths reflect those things in Dan that I admired. I didn't feel quite so screwed up. But on the other, uhhhhh..... maybe I am in the wrong line of work. And maybe I have a long battle to figure out what that is in a way that I can take care of myself financially and still want to go into work everyday.

It is a battle. Sometimes to the outside world, Dan's battle wasn't as evident because for a long time, he didn't look sick. He still went to school, worked full time, ran a foundation, golfed, dated, got engaged... but it was a battle for him. Shortly before he died, he said that people didn't realized that even with everything he was able to do, he didn't feel right for the last (almost) 4 years. He was sick, and he felt sometimes people forgot it. As with me, I've done pretty well. I've gone back to work, picked up Dan's foundation, gone back into life... but's it's still a battle. The tools I've always used to cope with life aren't the same, and maybe some don't exist. But it's also a battle armed with new strengths and a guardian angel.