Better Than the Alternative Tuesdays: Forward

This year hasn’t flown for me where school is concerned. The opposite, in fact. It has CRAWLED.

Whatever is slower than a snail, that's what this year has been like.

Whatever is slower than a snail, that’s what this year has been like.

But when I look back at exactly one year ago today, it seems like it was only a few months ago and not twelve. One year ago today, I spent most of the day under anesthesia, in the OR and recovery room, having my colon removed to cure my Ulcerative Colitis.

Sent this the day after so Obi-wan didn't worry so much. See Dad? I'm smiling = I'm ok!

Sent this the day after so Obi-wan didn’t worry so much. See Dad? I’m smiling = I’m ok!

What a difference a year makes.

Last year, I couldn’t run 2 minutes on the treadmill before I had to jump off and race for the bathroom. Last week, I ran a PR in the half marathon. 1:40, thankyouverymuch. Oh, and I’m gonna kick ass in Chicago running for Team Challenge in three weeks!

Jersey, baby!

Jersey, baby!

Last year, I was so sick I was getting chemo pumped into my veins, iron IVs, and hydration solution every week. As of right now, I’m only on one drug, soon to be DRUG-FREE!(This probably means very little to anyone but Mrs. Obi-wan. Look, ma! No drugs!)

No more blogging with one hand and getting Remicade in the other!

No more blogging with one hand and getting Remicade in the other!

Last year, I missed just about every single running/walking/sporting event with my friends. This Thursday, I’m walking in lower Manhattan with my lululemon family and friends in the Taking Steps walk to spread IBD awareness. (Join me!)

Go ahead, ASK ME!

Go ahead, ASK ME!

Last year, I was terrified I wouldn’t make it through my first year of DPT school because of the two surgeries, the colostomy bag, or some other unforeseen disaster. Not only did I conquer my first year of school, this Friday I will be exactly halfway through my first rotation. And I’m feeling great about it!

Abby Bales, Student Physical Therapist and wheelchair driver extraordinaire.

Abby Bales, Student Physical Therapist and wheelchair driver extraordinaire.

What a difference a year makes. I cannot thank my friends, family, classmates, running community, lululemon family, and all of you enough for all of your support and encouragement over this past year.

I guess today’s post embodies all of what Better Than the Alternative Tuesdays are really all about: forward motion in the hopes of a better tomorrow.

I was scared to go forward with surgery but I did it and I don’t regret it one little bit.

I was scared to go forward with school, not knowing if my body would hold up, but I did and I made it through (with a little LOT of help from Birdie).

I was scared to come forward about my disease and surgery and all that but I did and managed to not only make new friends, but reach out into the IBD community to help other people struggling with the same decisions I had to make.

And no matter what happens, it is always better to be here than not to be here. I know that now more than ever.

Happy colon-free-iversary to me! I am totally colon-free and kicking ass!

Now go out and run!

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In Pieces

THIS POST CONTAINS GRAPHIC IMAGES OF MEDICAL SITUATIONS.

VIEWER DISCRETION IS ADVISED.

ME!

ME!

This is a special Saturday post in honor of today being the start of Crohn’s & Colitis Awareness Week. Congress made December 1-7 of every year a week to bring awareness to Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (sexy, right?) and the people who live with these diseases.

If you’d like to participate in this week’s events, please reach out to your local Congressperson to invite them to become part of the Crohn’s and Colitis Caucus. Tell them my story. I won’t mind. 

This is my (abbreviated) story from the past two and a half years. 

________________________________________________________________________________

It’s weird to think about things in terms of “a year ago, I was…”

So much has happened in the past six months, I still can’t even get my mind around it all. The enormity of it overwhelms me sometimes so I just put my head down and plod forward.

Like a mule.

I got baggage.

I feel like I’ve lost little pieces of myself along the way, literally and figuratively. Maybe they were pieces I didn’t need because I don’t feel as bogged down as I did a year ago, but it hasn’t been an easy road.

Ulcerative colitis took my health and my running for almost two years.

Poison in my body for a year.

One year spent almost entirely on a treadmill because I was so sick.

Married to the treadmill.

And then came the big one. My colectomy. My colostomy bag. The end of being a whole person (in body, not in spirit). No turning back.

Little, innocuous purple spot.

Post-op surgery #1. That purple spot seems A WHOLE LOT bigger now.

4 drains coming out of my body. A stoma I couldn’t look at for days. Barely able to walk. My life changed forever.

Mom took me for a walk every day until I could walk far enough to see the beautiful mural on my floor.

I felt like a freak. I didn’t want anyone to see me, see my stoma. But then my loved ones asked and I suddenly didn’t seem to mind. They marveled at my new “gear” and how fast I was recovering and I started to find my strength again, without my colon and with my new bag.

Ladies and gentlemen, this was Rosebud. She gave me my life back.

I ran outside again. I started my doctorate program. I got back to the business of living. The love of my life gave me the confidence and support I so desperately needed to push forward.

10 mile race? Piece of cake!

And I finally showed the world what colon-free and kicking ass looks like!

Catch me (& Rosebud) if you can.

I felt brave and strong. Until I was in the ER. Until they didn’t know why. Until I was faced with surgery #2 before I was ready.

The ER is not the place to be with a stoma, I promise you.

And then I was back on 14 North. And my Mom was here again, holding my hand, brushing my hair, protecting me. It was like a nightmare.

And she walked me again. And she and my Dad and JB talked me down from the ledge day after day. No matter what anyone said or did, I felt broken.

In pieces.

Back to the drugs.

Here I am. Two months post-op from my second surgery. Five weeks from my last procedure. Feeling like myself again.

No bag. Just scars. Getting healthier every day.

No bag. Just scars. Getting healthier every day.

I feel like I’ve been to Hell and back. Back for all the world to see. To tell other patients that there’s life after surgery. That this disease DOESN’T have to hold you back. That only YOU hold you back.

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I would have never gotten through it alone. I tell everyone about my disease, my surgery, my journey because I refuse to hide.

I will NOTbe silenced. I will NOT be ashamed of my disease. I will NOT be the reason someone else suffers.

I have colitis. I had a colostomy bag. I have a J-pouch now. And I have am a BADASS.

Thank you, Run Stronger community, for your unwavering support. Thank you for sharing your stories with me. Thank you for sharing mine with others. Keep up the good work.

Now go out and run!

My {2nd} First Run Post-Op

Central Park, I have missed you.

 

I have missed you, old friend.

There really is nothing like New York in the Fall. If you have any doubts, watch You’ve Got Mail. It’s basically a love letter to NYC throughout the seasons, which I just love.

Where was I? Oh, yeah. I went running!

I’m sure that was what was on your mind when you woke up this morning. Not that silly little storm bearing down on the Eastern seaboard as I type.

Hurricane? What hurricane? All I see are whitecaps on my normally calm East River and sideways rain and trees about to get pulled out of the grou…OOOOOH! You mean THAT hurricane.

In my world, two successful post-op runs in a row is far more newsworthy than Sandy the Monster. Ok, that’s probably not true for anyone else but me but I’m gonna write about it anyway.

I ran my very first run back on my beloved Bridal Path in Central Park. I was greeted with cool temperatures, a quiet path, and the most beautiful scenery NYC has to offer.

Sheep Meadow looking very fine this Fall day!

Hello, gorgeous. Not the Bridal Path but I was too happy to stop and take a picture. You understand.

Sadly, Sandy is currently blowing away all of my beautiful leaves and trees.

Bitch.

I’m really glad I got two full runs in before this nonsense took over because several happy things happened on my run:

  1. I didn’t have to stop once, not for anything.
  2. I ran 1.75 on Saturday and 2.5 on Sunday.
  3. I feel great.
  4. My body doesn’t feel beat to hell like it did last time.
  5. No one ran into me.

Win!

I also saw one of my best friends on the side of a bus while running. Rockettes are preeeetty.

I spent the past two years figuring out how to run with this disease. When I was able to run, it was always interrupted by having to make a mad dash for the bathroom. Multiple times. Every run. No exceptions. It was not a way to live and it beat my spirit.

In a bathroom during an 11 mile workout, where else?

No more.

It started with a bag and Rosebud.

Me & Rosebud were a good team, though she often thought naked running was the way to go.

And now, it’s me and my pouch. 1.75 miles and no panic. 2.5 miles and no fear. For the first time since all this started a month ago, I am hopeful that I will be able to get my life back.

One run at a time. One mile at a time. One step at a time.

I’m off and running! How about you? Who knows–you might just spot me at a half-marathon sometime this Spring. You never know! In the mean time, you can find me at the medical tent of the New York City Marathon with my fellow NYU DPT students. I don’t want to see any of you there, ok?

Catch me at the Finish Line Medical Tent for a massage 🙂

Now go out and run!

(Unless you are on the East Coast, in which case ARE YOU CRAZY?!?! GET INSIDE!!!!)

What Are You Waiting For?

I won’t be so bold as to say, “I’m back!” because I am most definitely not back. Not by any stretch. But I am inching my way, day by day, towards some semblance of being “back”, whatever that will come to mean for me.

I’m not running. I don’t know when I will be and I’m trying (totally failing, btw) not to think about it. I miss being able to release stress with physical activity. Because this surgery wasn’t as invasive and the recovery is shorter, I feel ready to go out and run…

…if only it weren’t for that silly hole in my belly that just won’t close fast enough.

*sigh*

I was in the hospital for 4 days and it was about 2 days longer than I really needed to be there. Luckily, my awesome sister-in-law sent tons of pictures and videos of my sweet baby niece.

Being back on 14N gave me some time to think. I read everyone’s tweets about their long runs, marathons, and fabulous spin/bootcamp classes and wished with all my might that I could be with them.

Hospitals aren’t as glamorous as they look. For example, I had to get my own blowout the night before because they don’t have a salon on site. Hello? This is New York City.

Mostly, though, I wished I could just go home. And then I wished I could run.

When I hear young people say things like, “I’m not a runner” or “I could never run that far” in response to my favorite activity, I want to strangle them.

Yeah, yeah, to each his own and all that but really? You could never? Have you tried?! I want to shake them and tell them to try everything. Every. Single. Thing. Because they have the luxury of being both young and healthy and not taking advantage of that is a crime.

“Youth is wasted on the young.”-George Bernard Shaw

And health is wasted on the healthy.

Let me be your wakeup call. I seem healthy, right? Even after surgery and four days in the hospital.

This was in celebration of peeing, a prerequisite to going home. It’s the little things.

No one in the world would guess that I’m sick, that I can’t do every little thing I want to, that I am missing an entire organ. But I am, and I can’t, and oh boy am I ever.

Don’t waste time being scared that you might fail or not be the best at something. Try. Fight. Fall. RUN. If you don’t crack 4 hours in this year’s marathon, so what? You still RAN A MARATHON. You ran the same number of miles as Meb and Kara, not matter how long it took you.

And you can try again.

Get out there and see the sunrise from a running trail, not a hospital bed.

It’s a nice view and all but I prefer sunrise in my sneakers on the East River running path.

And take me with you. Hear me in your head. You can do this.

Now go out and run.

Saying Goodbye

Tomorrow I go in for my take-down surgery. It was not supposed to be tomorrow but other complications are mandating I go under the knife sooner rather than later and do everything all at once.

2 ER visits = surgery tomorrow.

Well, ok.

The general consensus from people in my world is that this is a good thing. No more bag! So great, right?! I get to be “normal” again!

You wanna know a secret? Promise you won’t tell?

I love my bag. I love Rosebud.

To me, Rosebud has been a symbol of freedom and health in my life. Rosebud has given me confidence in my body that was dwindling in the past two years. Rosebud has allowed me to get on with my life.

Love, love, love my bag.

My J-pouch is a variable. My J-pouch might not work. It will for sure be a HUGE adjustment for the next few months, maybe a year, for my body and for me. I won’t have the freedom I have now with my bag. I won’t know what to expect day to day, run to run, class to class.

Saying goodbye to Rosebud is scary. It’s emotional. I don’t wanna.

Back to the bathroom. Back to starting over again with running after training for a marathon all summer. Back to figuring out what I can and cannot eat. Back to panicking.

But I know I have to try and I know I can go back if it doesn’t work for me. And I know that no matter what happens, JB is there, loving me with or without my bag.

So, here I go. “Starting Over”-type blogs to come. Sorry for being light on the running part of the blog. I hope to be back in business asap.

Wishing everyone great races this weekend, especially my friends at the Portland, Chicago, and Twin Cities Marathons, or last long runs for my New York and Marine Corps marathoners.

Thank you all for your supportive, moving comments. I’m looking forward to coming back and running stronger every day!

Now go out and run.