2 weeks, 2 surgeries: On the fringes of cervical cancerland

If you’re going to get cervical cancer, this is the way to do it. Non-invasive, cervical pre-cancer, stage 0. As far as a trip to cancerland goes, I’m really only in the exurbs. Cancer patient with an asterisk, like the best kind of wind-aided PR. The luckiest of the unlucky.

I used to feel like a total badass if I did a distance double at a track meet. A 5,000m race followed up by a 3,000m a few hours later and I’d feel like a hero. Who knew that was just the set-up for the ultimate double? Two surgeries in two weeks: I feel like I’m owed some sort of frequent flyer status at Swedish Hospital.

Surgery #2 happened last week, a simple hysterectomy with a 12-week recovery estimate. “Badass” is not exactly how I would describe my feelings at the moment. Barely-able-to-string-together-two-coherent-sentences would be a much more accurate description. Movement right now takes the form of a precarious shuffle. Though my surgeon said I could do simple day-to-day tasks, I think he’s on crack. Either that or he’s NEVER ONCE IN HIS LIFE DONE THE GROCERY SHOPPING.

Yet despite all that, we’re doing just fine. As long as the pathology comes back the way they think it will, this is it for treatment. I have never felt as lucky as I do right now. Our friends have rallied around us in a way that I do not deserve. Words cannot express how much I appreciate the notes, texts, calls, flowers and food we have received.

Cancerland flowers

Above all else, I hope everyone takes this as a reminder to get your routine screenings. 20 years of normal results can turn on a dime. And if you do find yourself in the precarious world of cancerland, know that there can be unforeseen bright spots that might surprise you.

Bloomsday 2018 and new adventures

I’m not going to bury the lead. In the space of 2 weeks and a day, I went from a 2nd place master’s (women) finish at Spokane’s Bloomsday 12k to an operating room at Seattle’s Swedish Hospital, complete with oncologist, anesthesiologist, surgical resident and assorted nurses.

Bloomsday 2018 Start

Hiding out at the back of the elite women’s start (neon yellow shoes), trying not to get pulled out too fast by the pro runners at the front

For someone who prefers order and predictability, life has been a real doozie lately. We don’t always get to choose our own adventures. Apparently it’s my turn to live life by the seat of my pants.

A week before Bloomsday I threw out my back, lost my job, and started down the road (into? out of?) cervical cancer. These are all less-than-ideal outcomes. And yet hobbling striding confidently to the starting line at Bloomsday, I felt completely liberated. It was a last hurrah. I had nothing to lose and left it all out there on the course.

Bloomsday 2018 Finish

Second time around didn’t make this course any easier. Gawd, I was ready to make that turn to the finish.

Though I’m not someone who is overly anxious about worst-case-scenarios, I do keep a mental list of some of those possibilities. And will admit to dedicating a certain amount of low-level of stress to them. The funny thing about that stress, though? I think it’s worse in the anticipation of it than when it actually happens.

An unplanned day or two off of running would normally set me down a path of anxious restlessness. Yet I’m looking down the barrel at a minimum of 2-3 weeks off, more likely 8-10+ weeks, and feel fine. Curious, even, about how this whole non-running adventure will unfold. I have an oncologist. Those are words, like “my defense attorney”, that no one wants to say. And yet I’m oddly nonchalant. This might stop at a pre-cancer diagnosis. Or, it may carry on into something more complicated. You take things step by step and see what happens. 

It’s funny how life works. The guys for whom I worked sold their catering company and now I have a freed-up schedule to fill with appointments and trips to Seattle. Though Mike and I hardly saw each other this weekend due to a kids’ swim meet in Federal Way, we had a nice little date day yesterday pre- and post-surgical procedure. And as I await the results of yesterday’s biopsy, and prepare for a possible (likely) hysterectomy in two weeks, I feel myself again somewhat liberated. Yes, I’m losing the fitness I worked so hard to build up this winter/spring. But that’s out of my control. And there’s an inherent sense of adventure in not knowing what the future holds.

Rest, recovery and the perfect chocolate shake

What’s the difference between overtraining and under-recovery? In practice, probably very little. Fatigue, poor performance, and poor sleep are signs of both. When I last left you, I thought I was an overtraining wreck. Now, two months and a 6-week break later, I think under-recovery might be a more likely culprit.

According to this post on Core 3 Training, seven signs of under-recovery are:

1. Workouts seem more like work than training.
2. You’re weaker from week to week with the same movements.
3. You’re sore all the time.
4. Your spouse or friends keep asking what’s wrong with you.
5. You toss and turn at night.
6. Your heart rate is higher or lower than normal.
7. Your heart rate variability is less variable than normal.

During my workout hiatus, I ran the gamut of tests to determine the cause of my symptoms. Blood tests for ferritin, cortisol, and thyroid-type issues came back normal. As did an adrenal stress index (for the most part) and test for DHEA levels. Not at all shockingly, given Seattle’s record-breaking rainy winter, one thing that’s low is my Vitamin D. But that’s an easy fix. I have two full bottles of Vitamin D supplements from the last time someone told me to take them.

So what’s left? A giant hole in my recovery nutrition. Which probably plays a huge role in my sleep issues. This article on Breaking Muscle sheds more light on this subject:

Eat More. Food is essential to restore muscles after an intense workout. The harder you train, the more food you need to eat. The amount of fuel you eat will either make or break you, and far too often athletes under-eat for a few reasons:

Lack of preparation or planning.
Blunted hunger due to elevated cortisol (stress) levels from intense training.
Thinking they are eating enough.

I am only guilty of all of the above. After consulting with a nutritionist, I have a plan that consists of increasing not only overall intake, but carbs in particular. She uses this formula to calculate a competitive runner’s total carbohydrate needs:

3.6 to 4.5 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight per day

In other words, a shit ton. As much as I love bread, a person can only eat so much of it. But smoothies are a great way to add carbs, protein, and whatever else you want to add to your diet. I love this recipe that I’ve adapted from the Oh She Glows Cookbook. It totally rocks.

Perfect recovery chocolate shake

I can’t stop making this. It tastes like a chocolate milkshake and yet contains zero refined sugar. More importantly, it’s entirely whole food based, so you know exactly what you are putting into your body.


1 cup milk (whichever type you use)
2 medjool dates, pitted and cut in half
1 Tbsp. cocoa powder
1/8 avocado
1/4 banana, peeled and frozen (I keep a ziploc bag of these in my freezer)
2 tsp. almond butter
splash vanilla extract
1/4-1/2 tsp. espresso powder (if desired)
4-6 ice cubes (less for a creamier shake, more for an icier one)

Combine everything in a blender and mix into the perfect recovery shake. You’ll need a good blender for this one. Happy recovery!

An accidental foray into vegan, gluten-free cooking

This week I’ve gone the full hippie: vegan, gluten-free. I accidentally-on-purpose impulse bought this cookbook.

Angela Liddon’s Oh She Glows Every Day spun out of her popular blog, Oh She Glows. Which, I now know, specializes in vegan, gluten-free recipes.

At the time of purchase, however, I didn’t realize this. Alexa and I were enjoying a pre-Christmas girls’ day of shopping downtown and I had just completed a long-winded lecture about Christmas shopping being for other people. While I waited for her to choose a present for her brother, I flipped through the pages of this book. I saw beautiful photography and lots of vegetables. So, I bought it for myself. In hopes of enticing the kids with the pictures and adding some new and healthy dinner standards to the rotation.

Then I got it home and actually read it. Plant-based sounded great. But vegan, gluten-free? Apparently not all impulse purchases pan out.

But the book got me with the pictures. And some innocuous-sounding recipes. Apple Pie Overnight Oats? I can get behind that.

Vegan, gluten-free overnight oats

You’ll need to get the book to get the actual recipe, but the blog has a Vegan Overnight Oats recipe that is pretty close. This was a wading-in of sorts for me. Since we are neither vegan, nor gluten-free, I used our regular oats and full dairy milk, but everything else followed the recipe. And it was good! The kids loved it. I decided to go a little deeper.

One of my favorite things about this book is the simplicity. Yes, you’ll need to get some new ingredients. You might find yourself in an unfamiliar aisle at the grocery store. Those weird Bob’s Red Mill products you usually blow right past? You’ll need some of those.

But the recipes come together quickly and easily. Next up, I tried the Chocolate-Almond Espresso Cookies. You pretty much just dump the ingredients together and stir. No special equipment or technique required.

The verdict? Pillowy, chewy, chocolatey goodness. The kids didn’t miss the gluten or eggs. But that was child’s play. Anyone can throw together chocolate, sugar and almond butter and make it taste good. What about dinner?

Vegan nachos would really test the limits of these crazy recipes. The foundation of this dish is the All-Purpose Cheese Sauce recipe from the book. It gets layered with a bean and vegetable based chili, then topped with tortilla chips. A close cousin to the cheese sauce recipe from the book can be found on the blog here (scroll down the link to find the cheese sauce recipe).

vegan, gluten-free nachos and cheese sauce

Though Alexa complained that there wasn’t enough meat in the dish (apparently I’m not the only one not understanding the whole vegan thing), she went back for seconds and Colin took the leftovers to school for lunch.

Shepherd’s Pie prompted the same lamentation over the lack of meat, but the kids ate it all the same. And these seven-ingredient Endurance Crackers have steadily disappeared throughout the week.

This book is really great and the recipes could not be easier. And, more importantly, they’re actually pretty good. Believe me, no one is more surprised by this than I am. Though I wouldn’t consciously choose to go vegan, gluten-free, I wholeheartedly suggest trying this cookbook.

As a result of this week of recipe testing, Mike even suggested a meat-free month of February. That, however, is taking things too far. We’re having steak tonight. Because, you know, balance.

My 3 year experiment with a low sugar diet

Anti low sugar diet

Don’t freak out. I realize that the words “low sugar diet” sound like those of a no-fun, whacked-out loon. At least, that’s exactly what I think. And maybe for me the term “lower sugar diet” might be more accurate. I am, after all, still a working pastry chef. And I do live within a mile of Mora Iced Creamery, which is hands-down, the best ice cream shop on the West Coast (check it out, they’ll ship ice cream to you). Trust me, I’ve done my research. I do still consume sugar, just a lot less of it than before.

Like many things in life, this shift to a low sugar diet had the unlikeliest of beginnings. When we moved to the island seven years ago, the only preschool that had a spot for Alexa was the local Waldorf school. On paper, this seemed like a great fit. I like organic food, environmental responsibility and making bread. Why wouldn’t it work out? We jumped right in, and oh boy, it soon became clear we wouldn’t be welcomed into their fold. At first I was perplexed. Could they tell our pre-school ritual included a clothing check for Disney characters or Dora? Is it that big a deal that my 3-year-old would rather practice writing her name than paint with their homemade yellow paint? Then I rebelled. You don’t like us? Fine. Don’t mind that plastic toy I *might* have slipped into my kid’s bag today.

It was at the school’s mandatory parental talk on nutrition (nettle tea, anyone?) that I first heard the comparison of sugar to poison. I think the room could palpably feel my full-body eye roll that followed that pronouncement.

But somehow the idea continued to rattle around in my head. Perhaps it was the quick calculation I made that night to determine my approximate daily sugar intake. (It was more than I wanted to admit.) Or perhaps it was the realization a few years later that my diet might have benefited from a few more nutrients, and a little less refined sugar. Most of this sugar came in the form of cookies or ice cream. At a certain point three years ago I decided that whenever I reached for a cookie, I’d take a cheese stick or vegetable instead. It wasn’t a reduction of inputs as much as an improvement in their quality.

At the outset a big part of me hoped that nothing would change. Then I could happily return to my cookie-eating ways. But I noticed two big changes.

  1. After the first two or three (rough) weeks, I no longer craved sugar in the same way.
  2. After the first two or three months, I wasn’t getting sick in the same way.

Following the birth of my children, I found that I caught every single cold they brought home. I was sick all the time. But on the low sugar diet, as the fall and winter months began to roll by, I noticed that though the kids still got sick, I didn’t. And since I didn’t crave the sugar in the same way, it was easy to keep the ball rolling.

In the intervening three years, this has continued to hold true. Yes, I still get sick from time to time but not with the same frequency that I had in the past. And despite the fact that I do have to taste my pastry creations and still sweeten my coffee (let’s be real here), the sugar cravings don’t really exist anymore.

This is by no means a treatise on any one strict way of eating. Though it seems like the sugar industry might have single handedly financed the low fat diet craze, I’d still give a good eye-roll at anyone equating it to pure poison. I’m not all or nothing on anything. I mean, sometimes you just need a Frappuccino. And as soon as the immune system benefit stops working, you’d better believe I’m going back to my cookies. But for now, a low sugar diet still has some upside. Just don’t everyone go adopting it. I still like making pastry for people.

Runners: we’re famous for our mobility

Breaking news: I’m a runner who thinks stretching sucks. Who’s with me on this? You get back from a run with every intention of stretching, go inside where it will be more comfortable, and wander straight into the kitchen. Where the coffee, ahem, I mean water, computer, and any number of other distractions await. And there goes the stretch. You’ll get to it next time, right?

I used to be a cheerleader. Seriously. I could do the splits three ways, not to mention a killer toe touch.

OK, that's not a toe touch. This was 25 years ago and my parents took exactly zero pictures.

OK, that’s not a toe touch. That was 25 years ago and my parents took exactly zero pictures.

Now I’m lucky if I can straighten my legs while bending 90° at the waist. As I get older, I’m realizing that this is not good. That perhaps I need to do something about this. I’ve also realized that what I really need is for someone else to tell me what to do. The obvious answer to these problems is a good yoga class. But I already spend an ungodly amount of time working out. I can’t bear adding another class to the mix.

I give you: the yoga video.

Hear me out on this. It’s just 25 minutes. In the amount of time you’d spend pretending to stretch, you can turn this on and have no other choice but to follow the directions and get an ACTUAL stretch. You don’t even have to think about what to do. That’s the beauty of it.

The coffee can wait. If I keep doing this I might be able to reach past my toes soon.

Water … it’s not just coffee’s healthy ingredient

glass of waterI know, right? I bet you’re just as shocked as I am. I mean, who likes water? At best, it’s colorless, tasteless and boring. At worst? Well, it can have you fearing for your life. I hate drinking water.

So when a friend was looking for participants to do a hydration optimization challenge, I figured I’d be a good candidate. Given the amount that I run, I consume a shockingly small amount of water. For the purposes of this exercise, your optimal water intake is calculated as follows:

1/2 your body weight = oz. of water per day

That sounds like a really big number. And then. And then. Any diuretic beverage consumed (coffee, caffeinated beverages, traditional soda, sweetened drinks, processed fruit juice such as OJ) needs to be multiplied by 1.5 and offset by that amount of water. Yep, that’s right. You drink 8 oz. of coffee, that’s 12 oz. more water to add to your water intake for the day. So what did I do? I stopped drinking coffee. Or seriously reduced it. That is exactly how much I don’t want to be drinking any more water than I have to. But then there’s this tidbit*:

If the body’s water content drops by as little as 2%, it will cause fatigue. So if you are feeling tired (beyond this challenge), try increasing your water consumption and see how you feel. Given that we know dehydration causes fatigue and many people reach for caffeine to combat their fatigue (which further dehydrates the body), you can see how this creates a vicious cycle.

In fairness, most of the coffee that I consume is decaffeinated. I can’t seem to handle drugs of any sort terribly well. But some of it is fully loaded, and I haven’t really missed it.

And then there’s the metabolism component:

Hydration helps boost your metabolism and even mild dehydration reduces your metabolism by 3%.  We’ve talked about how people’s ability to detect their own thirst is impacted by dehydration – this gets weak as you get dehydrated.  Often times people are mistaking hunger pangs for hunger when the body is actually trying to tell you it’s thirsty!  In one study at the UW, all participants alleviated midnight hunger pangs by drinking one glass of water.  So are you hungry or are you thirsty?  It’s worth reaching for a glass of water first if you aren’t sure.

Who doesn’t want their metabolism boosted? Especially as we get older? And for us runners:

If your cartilage is well-hydrated, the rate of friction damage is minimal but if the cartilage is dehydrated, there can be much more damage from friction. The cartilage of bones (in a joint) contain a lot of water. In many cases joint pain is a localized sign of dehydration. If I remember correctly, it can take quite a while for joints to become rehydrated.

*Quoted tips courtesy of challenge leader and nutritionist extraordinaire Michelle Nevelle

I’m almost three weeks into the challenge and the biggest surprise is that it hasn’t been that difficult to drink the water. Perhaps this has been helped by the heat wave that has conveniently coincided with the timing of the challenge. It’s not that hard to gulp down 24 ounces when you’ve just sweat that much into your sneakers. But I do feel pretty good. I finally feel like my training is on the upswing, after backing off for a couple weeks after Rock ‘N’ Roll. Is it the water? Is it the timing? Who knows, but I’ll take it, and maybe I’ll even keep drinking the stuff.