Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 Reflection: A year of change, rebuilding, and acceptance

2014 has come to a close.  Four years ago, if you asked me what my life would look like in 2014, my response would have been much different than reality.  This year has definitely been a year of change, rebuilding, and acceptance, however even though it isn't exactly what I envisioned 2014 looking like four years ago, the year started AND ended with good health which makes it a pretty fabulous year!

The numbers, as they often do, have a direct correlation to fun factor.  If my calculations are correct, I spent over 450 hours on the bike and 70+ hours of cross training (weights, running, hiking, skate skiing, etc).  Like I said, 2014 had plenty of fun!

It also had quite a bit of change. In January, after weeks of Salt Lake City's notoriously poor air quality and feeling under house arrest to preserve our health, Shannon and I put what was supposed to be our 'forever' home on the market.  My health simply can not wait for Utah legislature to get their act together and make the changes necessary to have an immediate impact on air quality...

Allowing this type of pollution from refineries is, to put it bluntly, allowing murder

Moving day

By April we had moved into temporary housing and in June we moved into our new 'forever' home in Park City.  It was a ton of work and definitely a team effort (my Mom put a roof over our heads when we were between homes and served as our real estate agent), however every time I drive into Salt Lake's haze I feel grateful to live in the mountains.  So, so, so grateful!  The world class mountain biking outside our door is definitely an extra bonus!  Did I mention how grateful I am?!?!!!

The view of Salt Lake City's air pollution from the mountains

A year of rebuilding:  While chemotherapy and radiation for my recurrence culminated in 2013, I still had one big hurdle to overcome in 2014.  In January, I underwent a bilateral salpingo oophorectomy (which means my ovaries and fallopian tubes were removed).  I have blogged quite a bit about the reasoning for this surgery so I won't go into the details again, but in my particular situation oophorectomy was not only indicated, it was necessitated.  I wanted this surgery like I want a hole in my head.  After all, having your ovaries removed puts you into immediate and permanent menopause and all menopause's glorious side effects.  Definitely not part of my life plan; especially at 38!  But it was what it was and I accepted it.

Surgery day.  Woke up feeling good and relieved to just have it done!  

My first ride post-op.  
Lifting your leg over a bike is surprisingly difficult post-abdominal surgery; hence the ladder.  
It probably took a solid 6 months for me to tolerate "normal" clothes 
rubbing on my sensitive abdomen.  Yoga pants became my best friend!
(Note:  Man am I glad to not be sporting this hair-do anymore:)

I won't sugar coat it.  Menopause has been challenging both physically and emotionally.  I get embarrassed and honestly a bit annoyed that I can relate to 50-somethings when they are experiencing a hot flash.  Almost one year after surgery I still experience nightly hot flashes. (although they are much less intense than they were over the summer-perhaps because I have learned to turn the thermostat waaaay down before bed).  While 50-somethings like to joke about it, and I do like a good joke, menopause is still no joking matter for me.....In fact, I cringe a bit even saying the word....menopause, menopause, menopause.  Haha.  

Back to rebuilding:  Even with menopause (cringe:) my body has once again shown resilience and has rebuilt into resemblance of a bike racer. 

A highlight of the year was riding and racing with my favorite girls again.

 Another highlight was winning Moab Rocks stage race.

My best buddy has been through so much with me and brought me so much happiness.

Pretty psyched to close 2014 healthy and strong enough to session without apprehension
 Southern Utah's technical terrain.

A year of acceptance:  I used to think I had complete control over my life.  "Work hard, chase your dreams, don't give up, make 'it' happen".  While I definitely still stand by those words, sometimes life throws adversity, and 'it' simply doesn't happen.  One of the most important things that I (when I say 'I', I really mean 'we' because Shannon and I are teammates in this life) have learned is to accept what we can't control.  In my eyes, acceptance is very different from giving up or quitting.  Acceptance has most definitely been a work in progress and sometimes the amount of things requiring acceptance is overwhelming.  But with acceptance comes peace and peace brings me happiness.  As for the things I can control.  Well, I take great satisfaction in still controlling them:) 

Ringing in the new year with my favorite dude!

 Taking a moment to soak up the sun and take in Hurricane Rim's beauty

So although 2014 looked a bit different than it was supposed to, it turned out to be a pretty sweet ride after all.

And while I have learned that there are no guarantees, here's to more good changes and continued rebuilding and acceptance in 2015 and beyond.


Thursday, December 18, 2014


I plan to catch up on blog posts later this month.  In the meantime, this is what a year of hair growth looks like!  Also, to stay up to date on happenings, check out my Facebook page!  Happy Holidays!

December 2014

December 2013

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Moab Rocks Stage Race

Last year the Moab Rocks Stage Race was on my radar for what was supposed to conclude an epic 2013 of mountain bike racing.  With my axillary recurrence, and subsequent do-over of cancer treatment, it did not happen.  In fact, the day that I was supposed to be traveling down to Moab for the race I was three weeks out from finishing chemo and getting my 'dry-run' (which means practice session) for radiation.

So being the determined and stubborn person I am, I decided way back in 2013 that if I was able and healthy, I would race Moab Rocks in 2014.  I suppose it was a pretty lofty goal considering I hadn't done a stage race since 2009, recovery after races has been difficult since my original treatment in 2011-let along three consecutive days of racing- and it was yet to be seen if I could even race competitively after my second round of treatment.  But, I have found that daydreaming about being strong and fast and racing hard helps get me through the darkest days of treatment.   Never give up.  Never give in.  Never quit! (note:  my mantra was borrowed from a good friend:)

Fast forward to summer 2014 and I had every reason to be stoked.  First and foremost, I was healthy and had returned to a competititive level of racing. However my consistency wasn't quite where I wanted it to be for a stage race, which as trivial as it sounds in the big scheme of things, I admit was a bit frustrating.  Despite this, I  accepted my current fitness for what it was and had no big plans of changing up my Fall training plan until I ran into friend and coach, Sarah Kaufman.  I suddenly had the epiphany that I wanted Sarah to coach me in prep for Moab Rocks, so I started on her plan, and haven't looked back.  Sarah had just two-and-a-half months to prepare me for my 'A' race, and while I had a fairly solid base, it still wasn't much time.  She put together a solid program with plenty of hard workouts, a strong emphasis on recovery, and even fit in my mandatory weekly trail runs and weight workouts to support my bone health.

The program was clearly working as I could feel myself getting stronger and more consistent with every race I did.  The week before Moab Rocks my bike got a final tune at Go-Ride and I felt ready. That said, you never know if everything will come together as planned for a peak race let alone three consecutive days of racing.

My beautiful Pivot 429 Carbon ready to race.
Build:  Stans NoTubes Race Gold wheels, Continetnal Mountain King Protection tire (front), X-king protection (rear). Rock Shox World Cup 100mm travel.  Enve flat super wide bar.  SRAM XX1 28x11-42.  Xpedo M-Force8 pedals.  Bontrager -17degree stem.  Ergon SM3 Pro saddle and GS1 grips.  KS LEV dropper post.  Shimano XTR brakes.

I usually don't go through the play-by-plays of a race as they are often mundane and boring, and perhaps my play-by-plays will read as mundane and boring, however IMO Moab Rocks was some of the closest and most exciting racing of my career, so here goes!

Stage 1:  Porcupine Rim:  Stage 1 started in town and climbed 20 miles up Sand Flats Road before descending down Upper and Lower Porcupine Rim trails.  The 'neutral' start didn't exactly feel neutral as my heart rate shot up pretty quickly.  My plan was to maintain a steady pace up the climb, however light it up a bit if needed to hang with a group.  Sand Flats Road gets steep pretty quick and I was expecting to get shot off the back as soon as this happened; instead the opposite happened.  I started passing people despite maintaing a comfortable pace.  It was exhilarating.  As things flattened out I was able to match the accelerations to hang with the group, and soon enough we were cruising along at a comfortable pace.  As we neared the 10 mile mark, the group started to splinter, but drafting became less of an issue as the road pitched up.  I rode the remainder of the road with my new friend from Minnesota who was on a super awesome retro 26" hard tail spec'd out with v-brakes and ~60mm of travel.  At this point I wasn't sure what position I was in with the women standings, but thought perhaps I was in the lead.  It didn't last long though as we hit upper Porcupine single track I flailed around trying to follow the trail and was soon passed by Canadian Margie Smith.  I plugged along, not knowing exactly where the finish was, and was caught off guard when another Canadian Jen Schulz passed me.  I finally arrived to the remote finish in 3rd place overall, 2nd Open Women just 45 seconds out of the lead.

Stage 1 Open Women Podium: Me, Jen Schulz, Pepper Harlton

Stage 2:  Klondike Bluffs:  Stage 2 started ~15 miles outside of Moab.  We left beautiful weather in Moab and just 15 short miles away arrived to 25 mph wind gusts and threatening skies at the Klondike Trailhead.  Fortunately the rain held out, but the wind persisted throughout the stage.  We started on a dirt road a couple of miles from the Klondike trailhead.  While the pace was manageable, it was complete mayhem in the group with people getting blown off their lines by the strong wind and ruts galore along the road.

Each day of Moab Rocks was a bipolar combination of jeep roads and rocky trails. 
 Here on Stage 2, you can see the dark clouds behind us.  
You can't see the crazy strong winds blowing us around!

I focused on staying safe and holding the wheel in front of me, however soon found myself in a small, incredibly lazy group.  Pepper Harlton was glued to my rear wheel and none of the guys in the group seemed too enthusiastic about taking pulls as well.  For the most part I was stuck out front with a crazy side wind, not sure exactly what to do.  I went fast.  I went slow.  It didn't really matter.  Finally we arrived to the Klondike slick rock trails.  It started with a nice long traversy climb and I caught my breath before getting into a climbing rhythm.  By the top of the climb I had a nice little gap on Pepper and was riding with my friend Ken from Salt Lake.  He encouraged me to get on his wheel.  Suddenly we realized that there were no more course markings the way we were headed.  We could see some racers ahead, we just couldn't find the trail.  Note to self: keep your head up and don't follow blindly!  Our little diversion allowed Pepper to catch up and the two of us proceeded to ride the majority of the stage together, taking punches and swapping positions.

One of my favorite photos.  
Me being chased by Pepper Harlton on Stage 2 and I'm smiling!  
It was so fun out there! 

I caught her wheel on the final big climb of the stage and we started the Alaska downhill together.  She made a mistake, which didn't happen often, and I scooted around and followed a guy down the rest of the descent.  I quickly learned how much easier it was to follow someone on slick rock descents instead of having to focus so hard on trying to follow the faded dotted line.  Toward the bottom of the descent there was a blind turn into a short, quick, steep ledge.  The guy I was following and I were both in too big of a gear and got stopped.  Pepper cruised up the ledge and was gone before we even got on our bikes, the perfect attack, except soon after she missed a turn, lost a lot of time, and any hope for a stage win.  I rode strong and consistent to the finish where I was told I was the first female to cross the line.  There was so much mayhem on the initial road section that I didn't know where I was and was psyched to finish first overall, however I was also bummed that Pepper had made a wrong turn and we couldn't sprint it out to the finish.  I got over that pretty quickly; it's not every day that I win a stage!  I enjoyed the moment, and then directed my attention to preparing for the final stage of the race.

After Stage 2 my bike donned the Open women's leader plate!

Every single day the scenery was breathtaking!

Stage 3:  Magnificent 7:  My solid stage 2 performance put me into the Open women's lead, however less than 4 minutes separated me from 2nd place which really isn't too much time.  Although barring any mechanicals and/or wrong turns, I was confident that I could maintain that lead.  I was now on the defensive with very strong women ready to capitalize on any mistake I made.  I had a plan for the final stage that included going hard on the jeep road climb to try to create a gap and then smooth and steady on the rocky sections with my eyes glued to the dotted line as to not miss a turn.  My plan was off to a great start as I immediately got a gap going up the first climb, as we descended down the back side of road for the first time I ran out of gears on my 1x11 and couldn't go quite as fast as I wanted too; this probably wouldn't have been too big of a deal except I ended up coming to a complete stop at an intersection to make sure I didn't take a wrong turn.  At this point Margie passed me with Pepper on her wheel.  I hopped back on and followed them for the next mile or so finally catching them as we headed into single track.  Margie led, I followed, with Pepper on my wheel.  We rode together for the next 10 miles.  Margie rode fantastic lines and it was fun following her wheel, however at some point I decided that I could go a bit faster.  I am not sure why I decided this, because it absolutely wasn't necessary to maintain my overall position, but I passed Margie.  I had just started to build a small gap when my front wheel got caught in some sand and I crashed.  I jumped back on the bike, a bit shaken, and took up the caboose of the girl train.  We were soon spit out onto a jeep road with big rocks and drops.  Still a bit out of sorts, I crashed (more like fell over:) two more times and watched as Margie and Pepper rode away.  I took some deep breaths, knowing that I needed to get my head back on straight to maintain my overall position.  For the next 8 miles or so of rocky downhill trail, I rode steady and smooth with my eyes once again glued to the dotted line.

Carefully following the dotted line.  You can see the faint yellow marks on the slick rock.  
Difficult to see when racing hard and seeing stars instead of lines! 

Toward the bottom of the descent I came upon Pepper who was just getting back on her bike.  I shot her a, "you're kidding" as this was her third mishap in as many days.  We then came out onto the jeep road for a flat section before the final climb and descent to the finish.  I decided to sit on Pepper's wheel and attack on the climb.  At this point I really couldn't find any sense in pulling her around.  She was going really slow.  It was excruciating sitting on her wheel.  So I attacked a little before I planned and got a gap pretty quick.  It felt like I was attacking so hard up that final climb, but after three days of racing, it was more like a turtle race.  I pounded my pedals all the way to the finish, however it ended up being anti-climatic as Pepper flatted again and finished minutes later.  In the end, I won the stage and the overall in the Open Women category and finished 2nd place overall women.

Women's Open overall podium:  Jen, Me, Pepper

I really feel that this race was a turning point in once again having confidence in my body to race at an elite level.  Although I have had more than a lifetime's share of health set-backs, I am once again in awe of my body's ability to bounce back.  

Now, one week later, I feel like I am just starting to come out of my stage racing withdrawal.  I plan to give my body plenty of time to recover, race a bit of cyclocross this Fall, and prepare for an epic 2015.  Stay tuned!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


Another October has rolled around.  October is my favorite month of the year.  It happens to be the month of my birthday AND the best holiday of the year, both of which happen to be on the same day. October has another meaning to me now.  It is officially breast cancer awareness month aka Pinktober.  Pink is everywhere.  And while breast cancer awareness is great, companies who profit off  selling breast cancer 'awareness' merchandise without supporting legitimate breast cancer causes are not cool.  There is a saying in the breast cancer community:  Think Before You Pink.  My suggestion is: Enjoy the month.  Wear pink if you want.  Own it if you want.

That said, if you really want to make a difference consider donating directly to a cause that is working to prevent breast cancer in the first place or one that supports people affected by breast cancer.    The mystery of breast cancer is unraveling and I truly feel that there is more effective treatment right around the corner; possibly even a cure.  It can't come soon enough.  Not only have I been affected, but like most everyone, I have close friends and loved ones who have been affected.  I have watched dreams shattered, marriages crumble, and lives end too soon.....Take the opportunity of Pinktober to do something that really makes a difference.  As one of my friends so eloquently said, "Breast cancer awareness isn't about saving the boobies, it's about saving lives".

As for me, I am celebrating my favorite month by living life, the best way I know how.  Next weekend I will compete in my first stage race since 2009.  Shannon and I are traveling to Moab, Utah for a 3-day mountain bike stage race.  While I have done much longer stage races in the past, the rough terrain and technical nature of Moab's trails will make this three day race a legitimate challenge.  I can't wait to see what is possible.....

And since I have been too busy living life to blog consistently, here is a little recent photo journal of me living life:

Did I mention I finished 4th Pro Women at Draper 50!

If you want to feel like a Rock Star ride sweep at a high school race.  
Our Utah High School races have over 600 kids racing.  
The sides of the course are lined with rowdy fans.  I have never been cheered for so much in a race....and I was a sweep!  Can't wait to do it again for the Junior High kids this Friday!  
Photo: Lori Leger

 Our recent trip to Moab for a training block almost didn't happen.  
There was a flipped semi on Highway 6 blocking both lanes.  
Although no one was injured, we were told it would be a 5 hour delay.
 So we took a detour on Highway 31.  
It was a beautiful drive, however we were slowed by herds of sheep.  Not once, but twice!  
We rolled into Moab a bit later than planned.  
 We finally arrived to Moab and rode Sand Flats Road to Upper Porcupine Rim trail.
 Stopped for a photo at this beautiful overlook.  Due to our driving delays we got a late start to our ride.  At this point we should have noticed that the sun was setting.  
Once the sun set, it became dark quickly and we were stuck on Porcupine Rim in the dark.  
While we were not lost, we did have to use our iPhone flashlights and walk almost two miles back to the car.
Klondike Bluffs Trails are easy access and well marked

 First time riding Mag7 trails.  Random arch in the background. 
Heading home after a solid weekend of riding.  Dizzy is always very attentive in the car.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Combatting the side effects of chemo

Last week I was asked by Healthline to share their new info-graphic on the side effects of chemo.  Since it also happened to be my one-year anniversary of finishing chemo (hurray for that!), I felt it was especially appropriate.

Initially, when I checked out the info-graphic I thought, "Wow, this is great information".  It really is!  Then I realized that I had experience with most of the side-effects and my thoughts changed to, "Wow, this is depressing" "chemo sucks".  Unfortunately, these side effects exist.  Fortunately, there are ways to help combat (note: help, not eliminate) them.  So while it is unfortunate that the current cancer treatment is so incredibly harsh on the body, I feel it is important to be educated so that you can work to reduce those side effects, improve healing, and maintain a high quality of life during cancer treatment and beyond.

Below you will find the very informative info-graphic with links to the Healthline website.  Since I have had more than my fair share of experience with chemo, I have added some tips and strategies I have learned to retain health and minimize side effects during treatment and beyond.

Chemotherapy affects most of the body's systems
(taken from: Healthline

Chemotherapy drugs are powerful enough to kill rapidly growing cancer cells, but they also can harm perfectly healthy cells, causing side effects throughout the body.

The Side Effects of Chemotherapy on the Body

Cancer cells divide more quickly than healthy cells, and chemotherapy drugs effectively target those cells. Unfortunately, fast-growing cells that are healthy can be damaged too. There are many different chemotherapy drugs with the potential for many different side effects. These effects vary from person to person and from treatment to treatment.
Factors that play a role in side effects include other ongoing treatments, previous health issues, age, and lifestyle. Some patients experience few side effects while others feel quite ill. Although most side effects clear up shortly after treatment ends, some may continue well after chemotherapy has ended, and some may never go away.
Chemotherapy drugs are most likely to affect cells in the digestive tract, hair follicles, bone marrow, mouth, and reproductive system. However, cells in any part of the body may be damaged.

Circulatory and Immune Systems

Routine blood count monitoring is a crucial part of chemotherapy. That’s because the drugs can harm cells in the bone marrow, where blood is produced. This can result in several problems. Red blood cells carry oxygen to tissues. Anemia occurs when your body doesn’t produce enough red blood cells, making you feel extremely fatigued. Other symptoms of anemia include:
  • lightheadedness, pale skin, difficulty thinking, feeling cold, general weakness

Chemo can lower your white blood cell count, which results in neutropenia. White blood cells play an important role in the immune system: they help fight infection and ward off illness. Symptoms aren’t always obvious, but a low white blood cell count raises the risk of infection and illness. People with an immune system weakened by chemotherapy must take precautions to avoid exposure to viruses, bacteria, and other germs.
Cells called platelets help the blood clot. A low platelet count, called thrombocytopenia, means you’re likely to bruise and bleed easily. Symptoms include nosebleeds, blood in vomit or stools, and heavier-than-normal menstruation.
Some chemo drugs can weaken the heart muscle, resulting in cardiomyopathy, or disturb the heart rhythm, causing arrhythmia. This can affect the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively. Some chemo drugs can increase the risk of heart attack. These problems are less likely to occur if your heart is strong and healthy at the start of chemotherapy.

Jen's tips:  I worked closely with my nutritionist to utilize nutrition and supplements to support my circulatory and immune systems as best as possible.  Additionally, recommendations were made to help protect my heart from the damaging effects of an anthracycline based chemo regimen.   While there is no way to know for certain if this nutritional advice was beneficial, I will say that I did not get a single cold throughout my cancer treatment.  Additionally, no immediate heart damage from treatment has been detected.  

Nervous and Muscular Systems

The central nervous system controls emotions, thought patterns, and coordination. Chemotherapy drugs may cause problems with memory, or make it difficult to concentrate or think clearly. This symptom sometimes is called “chemo fog,” or “chemo brain.” This mild cognitive impairment may go away following treatment, or may linger for years. Severe cases can add to anxiety and stress.
Some chemo drugs can cause pain, weakness, numbness, or tingling in the hands and feet (peripheral neuropathy). Muscles may feel tired, achy, or shaky. Reflexes and small motor skills may be slowed. It’s not unusual to experience problems with balance and coordination.

Jen's tips:  Despite perceiving myself as relatively high-functioning cognitively throughout treatment, I definitely experienced "moments" of slower cognitive and motor processing.  These "moments" seemed exacerbated by fatigue and improved with exercise, and were always worse the first few days post-infusion.  To reduce symptoms of chemo brain, I recommend adequate sleep and exercise.  To help compensate for forgetfulness, task lists became imperative and are something I still find helpful today.  

I continue to experience peripheral neuropathy primarily in my hands causing my hands to get cold easily.  I don't let this slow me down; I just purchased some Bar Mits so I can continue to ride my bike in frigid weather.  

Digestive System

Some of the most common side effects of chemotherapy involve the digestive tract. Mouth sores and dry mouth can make it difficult to chew and swallow. Sores also may form on the tongue, lips, gums, or in the throat. Mouth sores can make you more susceptible to bleeding and infection. Many patients complain of a metallic taste in the mouth, or a yellow or white coating on the tongue. Food may taste unusual or unpleasant.
These powerful drugs can harm cells along the gastrointestinal tract. Nausea is a common symptom, and may result in bouts of vomiting. However, anti-nausea medications given in conjunction with chemotherapy drugs can help alleviate this symptom.
Other digestive issues include loose stools or diarrhea. In some people, hard stools and constipation can be a problem. This may be accompanied by pressure, bloating, and gas. Take care to avoid dehydration by drinking plenty of water throughout the day.
Side effects involving the digestive system can contribute to loss of appetite and feeling full even though you haven’t eaten much. Weight loss and general weakness are common. Despite all this, it’s important to continue eating healthy foods.

Jen's tips:  I found maintaining excellent oral hygiene to be the most effective strategy for combatting mouth sores.  While undergoing chemo make sure to brush your teeth after every single meal.  Use a soft-bristeled toothbrush and run warm water over it prior to using (to further soften the bristles).   Propolis is a good, natural mouth rinse.

As for digestive health, when I finished chemotherapy in 2011 I frequently had digestive issues (diarrhea).  After completing chemo once again in 2013, my Nutritionist recommended a high quality Probiotic which I have used with excellent success.  This is one of the most expensive supplements that I take, but having a healthy digestive system is worth it!  

Hair, Skin, and Nails (Integumentary System)

Many chemotherapy drugs affect the hair follicles and can cause hair loss (alopecia) within a few weeks of the first treatment. Hair loss can occur on the head, eyebrows, eyelashes, and body. As troubling as it can be, hair loss is temporary. New hair growth usually begins several weeks after the final treatment.
Some patients experience minor skin irritations like dryness, itchiness, and rash. You may develop sensitivity to the sun, making it easier to burn. Your doctor can recommend topical ointments to soothe irritated skin.
Fingernails and toenails may turn brown or yellow, and become ridged or brittle. Nail growth may slow down, and nails may crack or break easily. In severe cases, they can actually separate from the nail bed. It’s important to take good care of your nails to avoid infection.

Jen's tips:  Many of the chemotherapy regimens for breast cancer cause hair loss.  There is simply no way around it unless you are able/willing to shell out big bucks for cold caps or something similar.  Even if you cut your hair short prior to chemo, it is traumatizing and a bit (in my opinion) disgusting when hair starts to fall out in clumps.  A lint roller works great to pick up loose hair.  Coconut oil helps soothe the scalp as it becomes tender when hair falls out.  In fact, I would lather coconut oil over my entire body, especially my hands and feet, to soothe my dry, itchy, sensitive chemo skin.  Tea tree oil is the magic potion for finger/toe nails.  I developed toe nail fungus for the first time in my life.  Tee tree oil twice daily for a couple of months did the trick.  Tea tree oil also has healing properties and I use it on cuts, abrasions, and saddle sores.

Sexual and Reproductive System

Chemotherapy drugs can have an effect on your hormones. In women, hormonal changes can bring on hot flashes, irregular periods, or sudden onset of menopause. They may become temporarily or permanently infertile. Women on chemotherapy may experience dryness of vaginal tissues that can make intercourse uncomfortable or painful. The chance of developing vaginal infections is increased. Chemotherapy drugs given during pregnancy can cause birth defects. In men, some chemo drugs can harm sperm or lower sperm count, and temporary or permanent infertility is possible.
Symptoms like fatigue, anxiety, and hormonal fluctuations may interfere with sex drive in both men and women. So can worrying about loss of hair and other changes in appearance. However, many people on chemotherapy continue to enjoy an intimate relationship and an active sex life.

Jen's tips:  Whether you are in a relationship or not, if you are even considering having children in the future, I strongly recommend a consultation with a fertility specialist prior to starting chemo.  Also, check out Fertile Hope to see if you qualify for fertility preservation financial assistance.  To combat/tolerate hot flashes I recommend first and foremost exercise and healthy nutrition.  Other strategies that have worked for me include wearing layers as my body temperature fluctuates throughout the day, carrying a water bottle with me and taking a sip when I feel a hot flash coming on, and keeping the bedroom mildly cool at night when hot flashes are at their worst.  To combat the dreaded vaginal dryness, I recommend coconut oil (yes, coconut oil has many, many uses:) and Firefly Organics lubricant.  'nuff said...  

Kidneys and Bladder (Excretory System)

The kidneys work to excrete the powerful chemotherapy drugs as they move through your body. In the process, some kidney and bladder cells can become irritated or damaged. Symptoms of kidney damage include decreased urination, swelling of the hands and feet (edema), and headache. Symptoms of bladder irritation include a feeling of burning when urinating and increased urinary frequency.
You’ll be advised to drink plenty of fluids to flush the medication from your system and to keep your system functioning properly. Note: Some medications cause urine to turn red or orange for a few days. This isn’t cause for concern.

Jen's tips:  While it is well known that maintaining hydration is vital for flushing the body of toxins and supporting kidney health during treatment, exercise can have a profound impact as well.  Clearly, I am a big advocate for exercise during treatment.  I feel strongly that moderate exercise and quality nutrition are powerful tools in tolerating chemo well.  Exercise helps improve circulation and when combined with good hydration can help flush the chemo toxins from the body more quickly.  The power of exercise (cycling specifically) was driven home to me by an Exercise Physiologist at Huntsman who told me that studies show due to the increased circulation when cycling, patients on dialysis who rode a stationary bike daily, had their dialysis time significantly reduced.  He said that cycling in particular increases circulation more than any other activity.  While I haven't personally seen this research, the Huntsman EP is a smart guy and I believe him.  Think of the power this has for flushing out chemo toxins!  

Skeletal System

Most people—and especially women—lose some bone mass as they age. Some chemotherapy drugs can cause calcium levels to drop and contribute to bone loss. This can lead to cancer-related osteoporosis, especially in post-menopausal women and those whose menopause was brought on suddenly due to chemotherapy.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), women who have been treated for breast cancer are at increased risk for osteoporosis and bone fracture. This is due to the combination of the drugs and the drop in estrogen levels. Osteoporosis increases the risk of bone fractures and breaks. The most common areas of the body to suffer breaks are the spine and pelvis, hips, and wrists.

Jen's tips:  Besides having another recurrence, osteoporosis and debilitating bone fractures is one of my biggest future health concerns.  There is solid research that shows that weight bearing activities and exercise are beneficial to reduce bone loss in post-menopausal women with jumping activities being the gold-standard bone loss preventative activity.  For this reason, I jump rope, wearing a weighted vest, twice weekly.  Additionally, I do a 35 minute weight routine twice weekly and trail run once weekly with the intent of maintaining bone integrity.  Push-ups, planks, and side planks are done to help maintain shoulder and wrist stability.  I also take Calcium and Vitamin D/A/K supplements for bone health.  

Psychological and Emotional Toll

Living with cancer and dealing with chemotherapy can exact an emotional toll. You may feel fearful, stressed, or anxious about your appearance and your health. Some people may suffer from depression. Juggling work, financial, and family responsibilities while undergoing cancer treatment can become overwhelming.
Many cancer patents turn to complementary therapies like massage and meditation for relaxation and relief. If you have trouble coping, mention it to your doctor. They may be able to suggest a local cancer support group where you can speak with others who are undergoing cancer treatment. If feelings of depression persist, professional counseling may be necessary.

Jen's tips:  It is completely understandable to have feelings of sadness and depression while undergoing cancer treatment and beyond.   These side effects should be discussed with your physician and appropriate medical interventions taken.  That said, as hard as it is to get out the door and exercise when tired and achy from treatment, there is not a single time that I return from a bike ride not feeling invigorated and full of life!  

Friday, September 12, 2014

I have been making a conscious effort to not be so busy all the time.  Running around, lack of sleep, and persistent stress is not good for body or mind.  That said, this past month has been craaaazy busy.  Fortunately, it was crazy in all the good ways!

It started with three consecutive weekends of racing, the first being a little 5k running race I did with Dizzy.  Although I have incorporated a weekly trail run into my training, I do NOT consider myself a runner, in fact I have never competed in a running race.  That said, a race is a race, even if it is a "fun" race and I planned on "racing".  Dizzy, apparently, had the same plan.  I typically trail run with Dizzy off leash, so I was caught a bit off guard with him charging full gallop and dragging me behind.  I'm sure we looked pretty comical, however even with a stop at the doggie pool for some wading, Dizzy's strategy proved successful and we finished 3rd overall with a time of 22:45.  I have no idea if that is fast or not.

Dizzy and me before the Friends of Animals k9-5k.
I love the hot air balloons floating in the background.

The following weekend, Shannon and I traveled to Steamboat Springs, CO for the Steamboat Stinger a 50-mile race where Shannon and I relay raced in the Co-ed Duo category.  Despite being a short 2-night trip, the fun we had made it worth the effort.  The course, while not technically challenging, has over 3500 feet of climbing per lap.  For this reason, it was the perfect course for my super light Pivot Les275.  The race went well, I felt really good, and after a cumulative 4.5+ hours of racing, I missed catching the third place team by 30 seconds.  We were still pretty psyched to finish 4th place in the competitive co-ed duo category.

 Finishing off my 25-mile lap

 Hangin' out at the MTBRaceNews tent post-race

Co-ed Duo podium

Next up was the Wasatch 360, a local 6-hour race that benefits Summit Bike Club, the junior development program I help coach.  Once again Shannon and I raced coed-duo.  Over the course of six hours, an epic battle brewed among the top three co-ed teams.  Despite my best effort, Shannon and I came up just short of the win, however the fun we had duking it out will make this one of our more memorable races of the year.

Eating an apple on the podium is probably poor form....but I was hungry!
Note:  Cutest podium girls ever!

The craziness continued with a long day volunteering at the Park City Point to Point and a trip to St. George.

I am now gearing up for my first solo 50miler this year, the Draper Fall Classic.  I raced this race in 2012 so I know what I am in store for which includes a long, but fun day of buffed out single track.

With the craziness of the past month, I admit that I have had some days of fatigue, however overall,  I feel really good.  I am most pleased that after a summer of inconsistecy, I put together two really strong back-to-back weekends of racing.

That said, I am looking forward to life slowing down a bit.....but first I am going to race my bike for 50 miles...

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Quote from my nutritionist today after reviewing my recent lab results:

 "Your lab results are lovely. Your fasting glucose is absolutely ideal. Your white and red blood are very strong. Your protein status is very strong. Your calcium status is now strong. All of the levels look to be fully recovered to me".

Although I knew my lab results looked good, my nutritionist has stringent target ranges.  Hearing from her that my levels are fully recovered makes me very, very happy.  I even get to discontinue one of my supplements intended for immune support.  I'm all for taking less supplements!

In addition to this, life is good!  The combination of cooler weather and a solid coaching plan has me feeling really good.  

Look for a post in the next few days detailing my recent races including Steamboat Stinger, Wasatch 360, and my first running race ever (a 5k Fun Run with Dizzy)!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Looking at the numbers: recent lab results

Last Friday I had an appointment with my oncologist.  While it was just an exam, we also did lab work for the first time since February.  I was especially interested in my White Blood Cell (WBC) count and hematocrit as both those numbers have been consistently low since finishing chemo in September.

I am, for lack of a better word, psyched with the results.  Through good nutrition and taking care of my body, my insides seem to be bouncing back, and to be honest I was not sure it was possible.....

Since I keep close track of these numbers, here are some charts I made:

To put things in perspective, I finished chemo September 20, 2013 and radiation November 22, 2013. To my lay person's eyes, everything looks pretty darn good.  My lymphocytes are still a bit low, but they are creeping up and based on my Total Protein, BUN, and Creatinine, it appears as though my (mostly plant-based) protein consumption is keeping up with my body's demands.  

I also had my Iron, Ferritin, and B12 checked:

Iron and Ferritin numbers look good (to me).  B12 is just a touch low.  This is interesting as I have stopped taking a B12 supplement (per the recommendation of my Nutritionist).  Since B12 supplements can serve as a methylating agent (turning genes on/off with no discrimination for good vs. bad genes), she preferred I get my B12 from natural sources (i.e. high quality beef).  I do eat a small amount of grass fed, organic, local beef (approximately once/month).  It may be time to "beef" that up just a touch:)  I will run the numbers by my Nutritionist this week.  

The number I am most excited about is my hematocrit.  I have been hovering in the mid to high 30s for way too long.  I am now back to my "normal" range.  Bring on the Fall racing!

Speaking of racing, I am feeling ready to experiment with increased focus and structure in my training and have called on Plan7 Endurance Coach, Pro MTB racer, friend, and hardest working gal I know, Sarah Kaufmann to be my coach.  In the next few months, I have some exciting races including Steamboat Stinger, Wasatch 360, Draper 25/50, and Moab Rocks stage race.  Even though these races are quickly approaching, and I am not giving Sarah much time to get me in tip top shape, I am looking forward to seeing how my body and mind respond.  

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Striving to find my "A" game

When diagnosed with cancer there are many choices.  Medical choices need to be made.  Financial decisions need to be sorted out.  Priorities need to be reassessed.  One choice that is less discussed, is choosing how to respond to the often shocking and unexpected news of a cancer diagnosis.  While some of the emotions may be difficult to control, it is easier to control how you choose to treat your body.  Being a competitive athlete, I have a good understanding that the better I treat my body, the better I feel.  Back in 2011 and again last year, I knew that cancer treatment would be tough, however I also knew (well at least I hoped) that the better I treated my body the better I would feel during treatment and the more I would be able to enjoy life.  I made the choice to help support my body as best as possible during treatment and beyond.  One of the ways I did this was through good nutrition.

My point is, I want to be on my "A" game.  While my "A" game, for better or worse, may not look the same as it did 'before', I want to be at my full potential.  I want to kick-ass on the bike, at work, and just life in general.  I truly believe that supporting my body through good nutrition will help me to achieve my full potential "A" game in all areas of life.

Back in 2011, I blogged about my anti-cancer diet.  It has evolved a bit since then, especially with the advice of Nutritional Solutions.  Upon finishing chemo/radiation last winter, I have continued to follow Nutritional Solutions recommendations.

Which brings me to current lab work I had done last week.  I had a simple cholesterol and triglyceride test.  No biggie, right?  Wrong!  My recent oophorectomy and especially my new anti-cancer medication, Anastrazole (Aromatase Inhibitor) put me at increased risk for elevated cholesterol and triglycerides which often leads to heart disease.  There is always a cost to the benefit of cancer treatment.  This is one of the costs of my treatment.  Anyhow, I was relieved (actually psyched!!!) that despite this, my levels are still excellent.

Here are my results from 2012 and 2014:

So while an excellent cholesterol and triglyceride test may not seem like a big deal, to me, it means that perhaps all that hard work and good nutrition is paying off.  A small, but not trivial piece in the "A game" puzzle.

...and because no blog post is complete without photos.....


Angie Harker takes phenomenal photos!

 Moose hanging out on our street is a common sight.  
My neighbors say it never gets old.  I tend to believe them! 
 I named this guy, "Fred".  

Fred has a friend

PS-I have started an Athletefightscancer Facebook page to share blog updates, medical updates, photos, and other stuff I find interesting related to athletes, nutrition, cancer, and other occasional randomness.  Like it here:)