Sunday, January 22, 2012


The light at the end of our cancer treatment tunnel, and I say 'our' because both Shannon and I needed a light, was a trip to Hawaii.  Out of all the islands, we chose Kauai.  It came highly recommended by friends and there is no shortage of adventure or beach to be had.  So last week, we packed the bags, left the dry winter air, and headed South.

We pretty much jam packed every single day with a new adventure, but we allowed for some chillin' too.  The best part though, was the complete lack of responsibility.  We were just two kids having a good time.

Here are some of my favorite photos with brief descriptions:

Day 1:  We woke up early and snorkled in Poipou (South shoreline).  The reef and fish were fantastic, but we were not prepared with a water camera.  It was a bit chilly for me to be snorkeling as I'm a water wimp unless it is above my very arbitrary temperature of 87 degrees.  We then rented Specialized Rockhopper's (circa 2001) and rode along the eastern coastline stopping at numerous beaches along the way.
One of the beaches we stopped at along the Eastern coastline
 We spotted an endangered Monk Seal.  There are less than 1000 of these guys left.
 Beautiful Eastern coastline.  
We could see Humpback whales splashing and blowing bubbles in the distance pretty much everywhere
Since there was still daylight left, and we had bikes, we mountain biked Sleeping Giant, a popular and scenic hiking trail.  It just so happened that it was great for mountain biking as well.

Day 2 was probably the most epic.  We rode our rented bikes up Waimea Canyon along the Western coast.  The scenery was breathtaking, on one side of the canyon it resembled the Grand Canyon.  On the other, a beautiful valley 5000 feet below leading to the ocean.  The ride was pretty epic too.

The little Grand Canyon
A little more than halfway up the canyon.  Snacking on fresh pineapple.
Over 5100 feet above sea level

Day 3:  We hiked the Na Pali coast (Kalalau Trail) to Hanakapi'ai Falls.  This is one of the most beautiful hikes I have ever done.  Okay it IS the most beautiful hike I have ever done.  It is also a pretty rugged hike and is listed as one of the 10 most dangerous hikes in the world.  

 The lush Na Pali coast
 We were rewarded with a beautiful waterfall.  I enjoyed it from a rock.
 Shannon jumped in.  And froze.

Day 4/5:  I found my perfect water activity for when it is below my arbitrary 87 degrees to get in the ocean...stand-up paddle boarding.  You don't get cold unless you fall.  There is also something meditative about floating down the river, yet you are still totally engaged because it is a physical activity.  You can also make it as easy or hard as you like.  I was kind of a lazy paddle boarder and would always fall behind Shannon until he suggested we race.  Game on.  I kicked his ass.  Mostly because he was laughing so hard at my flailing technique.  

 Sunset was spent at Hideaway Beach
There's a reason many of the beaches are secluded

Day 5:  In addition to paddling, we went for a hike on the Okelehau Trail.  
 Another beautiful lookout
 We were high enough to overlook the tops of the trees and see Princeville in the distance
This hike had some pretty rugged spots.  Ropes were needed.

Day 6:  We were scheduled to go sea kayaking, snorkeling, and whale watching, but when we awoke to torrential rain, wind, and a power outage I figured I'd call to ensure the trip wasn't cancelled.  Sure enough, the trip was cancelled.  This was a bit of a bummer because the trip is only available twice a week and this was our last chance.  The day was salvaged, though, with clearing skies, the discovery of another secluded beach, and a running race between me and Shannon on Hanalei Bay beach.  Although I'm sure it was comical, two cyclists trying to run fast, it should be noted that I once again kicked Shannon's ass and this time he wasn't laughing!  

 Kiluea lighthouse~a great place for whale watching
 A beach to ourselves
 We could not figure out how these rocks were balancing
Hanalei Bay sunset-where the barefoot running race went down

Final day:  On our final day we woke up, packed up the rental car, and drove down to Lydgate Beach for some morning snorkeling.  It was low to mid 80s so I broke my 87 degree rule.  There were some pretty cool fish, but the water was a bit murky from the previous day's storm.  We then ventured to the Keahua arboretum and hiked on the Powerline trail.  It, too, was still muddy from the storm with the highlight definitely being swinging from a vine over the mud.  I've always wanted to do that.  It was hard.  Vines are slippery.  

Swinging like a monkey

 Wailua Falls  was raging with rain water
We wanted to kayak into the falls, but the rivers were too swollen with debris from the storm

We are now back in Salt Lake City and have been greeted by the first major snowstorm of the season.  A welcome sight for the skiers, but I was rather enjoying riding dry dirt in January.  In addition to continuing with training, I also get to return to the role of cancer patient.  Over the next two weeks I have my six month MRI, six month Sonocine (ultrasound), and a visit with my surgical oncologist.  Here's to hoping my next post if full of good news!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2011 in photos-A Year Worth Remembering

In January 2011, I started to get worked up for a small nodule I found in my right breast.  It began with an appointment to a primary care physician, then a mammogram and ultrasound, and finally a core biopsy.  On January 25th, I received the news that I had Invasive Ductal Carcinoma~breast cancer.

Later that very same day, my 2011 race bike arrived.  The irony.....

Receiving the diagnosis triggered a cascade of medical appointments and surgeries.  In 2011, I had 68 cancer related appointments.

Shannon and I spent many hours in the Huntsman Cancer Institute waiting rooms.  
Packing snacks was essential.

On February 18th I underwent my first surgery, a lumpectomy.  After surgery I received the excellent news that my lymph node biopsy was negative.

Relieved and happy to be done with surgery

Post-lumpectomy bandaging

Later in the week I received bad news from my final pathology.  The tumor was larger than what we originally thought and the lumpectomy margins were not clean.  This meant 1-chemotherapy was certain and 2-there were still cancer cells in my breast.

On Friday February 25th I underwent my second surgery to try to remove the rest of the cancer from my breast.  The pathology report after this surgery indicated that my margins were 'clean'-there was no more cancer in my breast-however they were 'close'-less than 1mm of cancer-free tissue surrounding where the tumor was removed.  A 3rd surgery to obtain greater than 2mm of cancer-free tissue was inevitable.

I ultimately decided that enough was enough, and my third surgery was to be a mastectomy.   Words can not describe how difficult this decision was for me, but at this point, today, I do not regret my decision.  

The weekend before my mastectomy, Shannon and I traveled to Fruita, Colorado for one last hurrah.  This was our last trip out of town until July.  

I also went on a hat buying binge in anticipation of losing my hair during chemo.

 I later found out that hats really aren't that comfortable when you are bald and it is 90 degrees outside.  Cotton, Buff headbands are much more comfy.
The week of my mastectomy, I chopped my hair off.  I thought it would be easier to manage with my post-mastectomy limitations.

 I went from this
 to this
 and finally this
My ponytails were donated to Locks of Love

On March 25th, I underwent a total skin/nipple sparing mastectomy.  Surgery was uneventful and I was discharged from the hospital the following day.

A tissue expander was used as a temporary implant.  Saline was injected every few weeks to gradually stretch the skin so that a permanent implant could be placed later.  Although I joked that I was going to upgrade to a DD, I was very assertive with my plastic surgeon that I wanted to stay as close to my original size as possible.  I ended up deciding to have a small implant placed on my non-mastectomy side to help with symmetry.

This is a photo of 3 tissue expanders

On April 15th I was cleared to begin chemotherapy.  I received 4 treatments of Taxotere/Cytoxan (TC) spaced three weeks apart. 

It was very important to me to stay fit and healthy during chemo.  Click here for some strategies that worked for me.  Although there were certainly side effects, I exercised almost every single day.  Some days it would be for 30 minutes, some 2 hours.  Moving helped me feel alive.

Rippin' trail is still possible while undergoing chemo

For me, wearing a bike helmet was my favorite and most natural way to cover my bald head

Oh yeah, my newly cut short hair started falling out in chunks 
three weeks after my first chemotherapy treatment

Although as a cyclist, I have always strived to eat healthy,  I made the personal decision to switch to a plant-based diet.  Shannon and I spent the summer becoming fairly proficient at preparing plant-based meals.  

 Beans, kale, onions, garlic, and mushrooms.  Yum.
Black beans, yams, spinach, onions topped with almond cheese on a whole wheat pita.  Yum, yum.

I also have a green smoothie every day.  My favorite ingredients are kale, brussel sprouts, spinach, almond milk, hemp protein powder, frozen fruit, banana, ginger, and MILA.  It is definitely an acquired taste, but with my smoothies I am more concerned about nutrition than taste
Some of my favorite books that help guide my diet

My final chemotherapy infusion was June 17th  

I then had six weeks off work for summer break.  Perfect for rejuvenating the body after chemotherapy.

I spent the summer riding my bike

 Hanging/riding with new friends
 and old friends
and playing with my crazy puppy

We also traveled to Steamboat, Colorado and Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  Admittedly, I wasn't too keen on photos when I was bald:)

On August 15th I underwent my final reconstructive surgery.  Around the same time, my Dad's health started to decline.  He passed away August 31st due to complications related to Early-onset Alzheimer's. I don't like to talk about it, especially on my blog.  

Me, Dad, and Gordie December 2008

This fall/winter has been spent rebuilding strength and fitness in hopes that I can compete at an elite level in 2012.  There. I said it. I plan to return to racing in 2012!   Training officially starts today.

I have already dabbled in a bit of racing 

I added a BMX bike to my fleet that now includes a full-suspension, 29er hardtail, singlespeed, cross bike, road bike, and now BMX bike!

By the end of November I was ready for my first haircut.  
Christmas was spent with family, 
and this photo serves as evidence that after four short weeks I was already ready for a second haircut

2011 will always be remembered as a trying year: physically and emotionally.  That said, when Shannon and I finally came to terms with the fact that most of the year would be spent undergoing treatment, we made a choice.  It would have been easy and even understandable if I hid out for the year, miserable and sick, feeling sorry for myself.  But life is too short.  Instead, we decided to live life to the fullest extent possible, despite the circumstances.   Even though 2011 wasn't the year it was supposed to be, there were many great times.  Thank you everyone who was part of those great times!  Although I am enthusiastically ready to move on to 2012 and life after cancer treatment, 2011 was a year worth remembering.

Here's to a full, healthy, and happy 2012-for me, my family, and everyone! 

Happy New Year!