My Journey through Breast Cancer

On October 11, 2013, I was diagnosed with Stage II Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC) ... or as we like to call it, extreme measures for a nap (EMFN). For a while, this blog will be my cancer journal. Enter at your own risk.

19 June 2014

a letter to my new workout instructor

We haven't really even met. I've only been to 2 of the last 5 classes you've taught. I apologize for that. I was sick one week, my husband was out of town two of those weeks ... and I can't leave the kids at home alone (as much as I'd like to). Excuses, excuses, I know. But for some reason, I feel the need to explain myself, or at least to introduce myself.

My name is Heidi. I'm significantly out of shape and overweight. I haven't always been. There was a time, and it wasn't that long ago, that I spent my summers training to climb mountains. I've summitted three of California's "fourteeners" (mountains over 14,000 feet), including Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the continental U.S. No small feat, if I do say so myself.

But that was before kids. Hubby and I had all the time in the world to go to the gym, to eat properly, to encourage one another in our endeavors. We didn't know how easy we had it.

I got pregnant with  my first baby in 2008, not long after losing 25 pounds and getting into pretty decent shape. As a result, that pregnancy went pretty well. But around the time the baby was born ... everything fell apart. My husband lost his job, we lost our home and moved in with my parents, I had to go back to work three months after Baby Girl was born. It was stressful. And I eat and sleep when I'm stressed. Consequently, I lost none of the 40 or so pounds I'd gained during pregnancy. And when Baby was only 9 months old ... I got pregnant again.

My husband eventually found work, we found a way to move out of my parents' house, and Baby Girl #2 joined our little family. I didn't have to go back to work this time. And once we got past that newborn phase (you know, where you don't sleep for more than 2 hours at a time, but somehow manage to function), for a while, things were good. I tried getting back into shape, but with two little kids just 18 months apart ... Well, eating right and exercising takes a lot of focus. And I didn't have that. My kids kept me too busy.

In 2012 we got pregnant with Baby Girl #3. So exciting! I always wanted a big family. But it was a truly exhausting pregnancy. My unhealthy and (ahem) older body didn't have enough energy to make a baby AND care for two little ones all day. It was a very stressful nine months. I slept as much as I could (which wasn't nearly enough), and spent the rest of the time sitting, letting the kids watch too much TV. I was tired beyond description.

Baby was born at the end of May, 2013. I was thrilled not to be pregnant anymore ... but then, of course, I had a newborn. They don't sleep for long stretches at a time. I was still tired. Oh, so tired. By the end of the summer, though, things started looking up. I started caring about life again. I started cleaning my house and cooking real food. I turned off the TV and made the kids play outside. I started getting back to my health, and even lost 14 pounds.

But it was short lived. In October I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer, the nasty kind. The kids were 4, 2.5, and four months old. I spent weeks getting tests done, talking to doctors, learning about the disease, etc. I had to switch the baby to a bottle (very sad). In November, at age 38, I had a double mastectomy. In early December the chemotherapy started. I'm guessing I don't have to say that stress and weariness settled upon me once again. Comfort eating and couch sitting and too much TV watching characterized my life ... again. I quickly gained about 10 pounds. On the one hand, I didn't care. On the other hand, my weight depressed me. It didn't help that I'd lost my breasts and my hair. Feeling good about myself was a daily battle during my fight with cancer.

But on March 26th of this year, I had my last chemo treatment. On May 1st, I had reconstructive surgery. A week or so later I noticed my hair finally growing back. The energy that chemotherapy had stolen was starting to return. I no longer needed help with meals or cleaning or childcare. I started running my own household again. It was an adjustment, I'll admit. It was very nice having hot meals brought to my house and others doing the vacuuming. But it felt good to care for my own family again. Slowly but surely, I began to feel whole.

Which brings me to now. I am still about 50 pounds overweight. This depresses me. I battle daily to love myself as I am, mindful of what I've been through, to appreciate what my body has endured (I've made and nursed three babies AND I've beat cancer!). Some days I give myself grace, recognizing what the last six years has held, and I'm OK. But, some days I'm so disgusted with myself I stay in my pajamas all day and eat the kids' macaroni and cheese and the M&M's meant for Ella's potty training rewards. I find it ironic how the more depressed I am about my weight the more junk I eat.

But with each passing day, each millimeter of hair growth, increased movement in my left arm (where they removed lymph nodes), as energy returns ... I find myself once again ready to attack my health. It's slow, but I have made some progress already. Before I started your class I lost 5 pounds. I've been cutting out most bread items, and I've switched to Diet Coke from regular (baby steps, right?). I'm incorporating a lot more vegetables into our diet. I don't buy cookies or too many crackers. And I am trying to get to your class once a week. I've started doing 10-minute workout videos at home. Arms. Legs. Core. It's something, right? Cardio is hard for me, mostly on account of the kids. But in just a few weeks two of them start school ... and I'll have time to walk the baby in the stroller.

The last time I weighed myself I'd lost half a pound ... over a two-week period! I told you the progress was slow. But hey, it's forward movement, right? I just want to keep moving forward. Changing life habits takes time, right? And, my life looks a lot different than it did six years ago. I have a handsome husband, three precious little girls (now ages 5, 3.5 and 1), two dogs, and one fish to look after. Every. Single. Day. The kids still leave me exhausted, but they are also the motivation to stay alive and healthy and energetic for as long as possible.

Cancer didn't shock me into crazy healthy eating and exercising, or change anything drastic in the way I live my life. But, for the first time in my nearly-39 years, I have an appreciation for the fragility of life. This body is not going to last forever. And I'm OK with that. But, while I'm here, it's the only one I've got. I need it to work for me. I have three kids to raise and a husband who'd like to have me around for a while. I am desperate to take better care of it.

So I'll see you in class Monday. Because even if it's slow, I want to keep moving forward.


Patty said...

So proud of you Heidi! You deserve the best in life, and it sounds to me like you're gonna get it!!

Anonymous said...

Heidi, take it slow, you have been through a lot. You are so loved and prayed for, your goal toward health is not all about weight but also about comfidence going forward.
It's one day at a time, it's trusting the Lord to see you through, it's strength that comes from the Lord alone.
My weight without having any of the adversity you have faced has burdened me, but as slow as it is to come off, it's focusing on what's most important in life that motivates me. Love of the Lord, family and friends.
Hang in there..we continue to pray for you... Hugs Cherie