Disclosure: I'm writing this on the morning following one of my biggest "screw this shit" meltdowns ever. Really, I'd prefer to insert the f-bomb in place of the "screw" but I'm trying hard to be a better person. I'm cranky and I have a headache because I didn't sleep at all, so not sure how much progress I'm going to make today on the self-improvement front. More on that later. I'll put it at the end so those who are nice enough to read this can stop before I start complaining.
I'm a little behind, but really, my main reason for posting is to share one of my recent triumphs: first half marathon in 2 1/2 years! Training went perfectly. Nailed every run, felt great the whole 10 weeks. I wasn't looking for a time (I don't usually at this distance), just looking to finish, so I didn't do any tempo runs or speed work. Aside from logging the miles, the only race-particular strategy I trained with was to deliberately run a lot of mid-week 6 milers. I'm so lucky to not have any lower body pain, but I still struggle with morning stiffness in my knees and hips. However, I know myself well enough to know that if I can get through the first hour of any workout that is usually enough time to loosen up. So, it was really the first half of the race I had concerns about, more so than the second half. But all those hour runs gave me a lot of confidence that if I just stuck with it I could finish feeling well.
TMI WARNING: (read on at your own risk, especially if you are male)
So, I ran and ran, through some achy-ness and one of the junkiest northeastern winters to date, and made it to my taper week without incident. Awesome. Then, major gynecological incident Thursday into Friday, subsiding but still bad over the weekend...including into Sunday. I won't go into details, but I've been dealing with some massive, severe pain for about a year (RA has nothing on this; it landed me in the ER once), and the hysterectomy that I've been trying to avoid for months can't wait anymore and is scheduled for June 4th. I'm so upset and overwhelmed that I can barely deal with the fact that it is happening. But the more immediate concern that weekend was would I be able to do the race I had spent the past ten weeks busting my ass for. Friday at midnight I literally thought there was no way I could imagine it, and I didn't even care about the lost training time or the lost $75. It was the last thing on my mind. A lot of Percocet, Tylenol and Advil (way more than the recommended limits) Friday afternoon into Saturday, and I thought maybe I could pull it off. By Saturday night I had decided that, come hell or high water, I was showing up to that race, damn it, and I was going to finish that mother f***er, even if I had to walk. There was no way that I was going to work so hard to run with RA only to have my uterus be my undoing. Five Advil with my pre-race bagel, and the next thing I knew I was standing at the starting line of my 10th half marathon.
Like I said, I was really just hoping to finish and reclaim part of my pre-RA identity. Admittedly, I was kind of aiming for a 2:10 time, just concentrating on holding a steady pace. Nothing spectacular, but I was fine with that, and I wouldn't have been upset if I didn't hit it. After the awful preceding days, I showed up that morning just hoping to make it through without tears, but wishing for at least a sub-2:20. I joined the 2:10 pace group, and was off.
The first 6 miles were exactly what I expected them to be: clumsy and stiff, but aside from being a little cold (low 40s at the start) I felt comfortable. Mile 8 I started to pick up the pace because I felt like I could. At mile 10 I saw a friend volunteering at a water stop with Special Olympics. It was the first time I checked my watch, and I realized I might be able to break 2:10.
In this post I wrote about how the 11th mile tends to be my toughest, but that morning I felt good, I was just starting to get a little tired. And, for the first time during the race, I kind of let my mind wander. I thought a lot about my kids: Rhys, who trains four hours a day as a gymnast and has talked about being a scientist who studies autoimmune diseases; Wes, the boy who loves an overhand smash more than any other tennis shot, and never lets me pour anything if he notices I am struggling; Gwenny, my little ballerina who loves to dance, run, and ride her bike, and who practiced so hard to pronounce "rheumatoid arthritis" so that she would get it right; and my little Max, the George kid who has to work harder than the others at sports but never gives up and who always asks me if I'm OK. Of course I also thought a lot about Sean; I couldn't do life without him. I thought about our dear friend Fran, who lost her long battle with breast cancer just several weeks ago. She was diagnosed at stage IV, and endured extremely taxing treatments to be able to be with her husband and three kids as long as she could. Fran showed me that true courage is fighting each battle with everything you have even when you know you will ultimately lose the war. She was the one who encouraged me to write about having RA, and I still often go back to read her text that says, "I'm proud of you." I miss her terribly.
Before I knew it I was at the finish line. Chip time: 2:08:27. I didn't see that one coming!
Sean's pic of me after finding him at the finish. I was so cold!
With Sean :
With my kids, sporting their Cure Arthritis bracelets. Thanks to Derek at the Arthritis National Research Foundation and Racing for a Cure!
And, random pic with one of my best buds. Thanks for always being there for me and our family, Jean! I really love this picture.
I couldn't have asked for a better race under the circumstances, and I'm already thinking about what is next. Ideally, I'd like to do a full marathon (my unfinished business that I described in my first post) or a faster half. I think I can hit 2:00 at my next one if I train right, but I'd also be happy with 2:05, as it might be to my advantage to take a more conservative approach. However, I have to get through June and see how I'm doing. Hoping for a minimally invasive surgery, but my doctor won't know for sure if she can do it laparospically until she is able to see for herself. I tend to bounce back from things like this pretty quickly, so I am hopefully optimistic that I'm only going to deal with two weeks of down time.
Now, to address the meltdown. I'm sharing this only because I know there are patients who can relate. I'm so lucky; I've responded well to medication and generally, I feel pretty great! The only frustration I have left are my hands and my wrists. They hurt so much too much of the time, and while it's not enough to stop me from doing what I want to do, it's making certain things very difficult and it's miserable. I'm not looking for sympathy; these are the cards I was dealt, and in the grand scheme of life things could be much, much worse. Because there hasn't been a change in my hands, my rheumatologist ordered a Vectra DA test, a series of RA-specific biomarkers that measures disease activity and classifies it as a single score indicating low, moderate, or high activity. My results came back as low activity, which is exactly as I would describe it in my unprofessional, untrained opinion. It was nice to be validated when I feel like I've been spending way too much time being a patient these past two years. I'm desperately hoping this means I'm getting closer to remission. The flip side is that I don't have an answer as to why my hands and wrists aren't improving, despite being on the meds that I have dutifully taken but hate with a passion, and after agreeing to a second wrist surgery that I was always skeptical about. I know this doesn't make any sense, but I was so much happier when I thought bad hands and wrists were something I just had to live with, and most of the time I wish I had never found out the cause. And I know some RA patients would have me exiled for this comment, but I'm actually at the point where I wish someone would tell me it's all in my head. I honestly think I could deal with that better than the clinically apparent, red, enlarged, inflamed, swollen joints that I feel like I have no control over but can't ignore and can't hide.
I am thrilled with my Vectra DA results. I am less than thrilled with the message of "stay the course" that was given to me by the MA who called. I don't want to stay the course, I want OFF, and I want off NOW. But I also want my hands to feel better. I want to open jars, pick up things, and ride my bike painlessly. I want to weight train and do push ups. I want to swim. I'm sick of going to the doctor all the time. I hate blood work, I hate thinking about this crap, I hate things that aren't straightforward. I really hate Big Pharma and their advertisements (cynically so glad they are capitalizing on the misfortune of others), and I'm angry that commercialized (read: profitable) tests are now finding their way into the chronic illness market. I don't want to go to any more doctor appointments ever again. I don't want a freaking hysterectomy and I don't want to have RA anymore. I want to call my own shots, and I feel like I haven't been able to do that in a very long time, and I feel like I won't be able to ever again. Most of the time I'm able to deal, but last night was one of those rare occasions where it felt like everything was too much, and I lost it. I guess there's nothing to do at this point except wait to see what my rheum's take is on all of this.
A few cups of coffee, a plain, white bagel with sugared-up cream cheese, and a Hershey bar as I write this (because going paleo, gluten free, anti-inflammation hasn't done a damn thing anyway), and I'm feeling a little more rational this morning. Thank you to all the rheum patients who can relate, and thanks to all the readers who just "listened" and celebrated my small accomplishments with me. Off to the gym for a little while now, and hoping for a better version of myself by the time the kids get home from school and Sean gets home from work.
Thanks for reading!