Category Archives: Fitness

Tenuous

I am happy to report that I have a strong, healthy heart.

Which is good, because my Kryptonian blood wants to make it beat really fast, all the time now, so I’m glad I’m built to handle the extra work.

My increased pulse is a symptom of myelofibrosis, and it frustrates me, as I have faithfully banked 4-6 cardio workouts per week for the past 15 years. My resting heart rate in recent months has been an acceptable (though rapid) 100 – 115 beats per minute, but at my appointment last week it was 130. My doctor sent me to a cardiologist, just to ensure that we don’t have anything new to worry about. He set me up for some tests, all the while reassuring me that it was all precautionary; not to worry, blah blah blah (“You haven’t satisfied your 2011 deductible yet, so that will be $1,078.41, please. Will you be writing a check?”)

This morning, I went in for an EKO (see price tag, above) without really knowing what to expect, until I saw the ultrasound machine. I smiled, remembering several screens similar to this one, that, back in the late ’90’s, revealed first glimpses of babies sucking their thumbs and kicking tiny feet back at the ultrasound waves. Back then, my only medical visits were related to my chronic status as a baby factory. When Richard, my tech, turned up the sound of my own heartbeat this morning, I fought back tears as I tried to process the stark contrast between my current medical situation and the visceral memory of burgeoning maternal joy that came along with that same audio track, first heard clearly at Week 11 of Pregnancy #1. That moment, 16 years ago, was surreal and overwhelming. That tiny, steady gallop provided the first undeniable evidence that Sam was really in there.

Today, my heartbeat made virtually the same “woosh, gallop, woosh,” that I remember from prenatal ultrasounds. I realized that over three pregnancies I must have developed a kind of Pavlovian response to that sound; one of gratitude for life, health and unlimited potential. I was unprepared for how much the same pattern, heard in such a different context, would jar me emotionally. What a difference a diagnosis makes.

Richard was kind, but didn’t say much as he moved the transducer around, assessing and measuring chambers and valves and ventricles. While I don’t know the specifics of which structure is what, I couldn’t help but wonder how it is that we depend so completely on the proper function of something that delicate, with its impossibly thin walls and fluttery valves. I thought about how hard I have pushed my heart in the gym over the years, never once worrying about its ability to rise to the challenge. But there it was in front of me, revealing itself for the mortal structure that it is, capable of so much despite its impossibly fragile appearance.

The line between health and illness is fuzzy and tenuous, far more so than I ever realized. I’m grateful for the fitness I had going into this disease, because I’m sure that all of those years of sweat and effort will make the difference in my ability to come out healthy on the other side.

My heart is fine, but I’m going caffeine-free to help bring my pulse down, a prescription that would have left me whimpering in a closet a few months back. But it seems a small price to pay to help keep things running at full strength.

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I Found A Lump

It’s not my first… this one makes number five since I started growing fibroadenomas in 1994, if you’re keeping score, which I suppose I am.

Lumps suck. Lumps are scary, not supposed to be there, infuriating, disempowering and defeminizing. In my case, so far, they have all come through pathology with labels that are always somewhat “unique,” but also, thankfully, always something other than cancer. But no matter how much my body seems determined to make ambulatory surgery with local anesthesia and IV sedation a hobby, I have never gotten used to it.

My last lump adventure was in 2005. It was a seven appointments long, high-stress, multiple-biopsied extravaganza which culminated in the surgical removal of two “areas of concern.” In the end, my “atypical apocrine-like cells” were passed around to several pathologists at two different teaching hospitals, and ultimately labeled as indeterminate and rare, but most likely benign anomalies.

So here I am with four surgical scars and deeply insulted breasts, but also with my (“most likely”) good health and an ever growing secret stash of four-leaf clovers and lucky pennies.

Deep breath.

Five weeks or so ago, I found a new lump. One would think I’d be downright religious by now about regularly checking myself, but with all my scar tissue and surgical troughs, I find it almost impossible to tell whether or not there’s anything different going on from month to month. I’m not very good about checking. But this sucker was big. A good inch and a half across. I was horrified as I realized, a day or so after I found it, that I could see the lump in a mirror at my gym, through two layers of fabric, mid bicep-curl.

These things get scarier as I get older. While I know that statistics are on my side and that the vast majority of lumps are benign, I also know that the numbers get slightly less favorable when lumps appear after age 40. I have not spent the past five weeks worried sick about cancer — I know that would be highly unlikely, and have instead used my negative energy worrying about surgery. But it’s still impossible to completely quiet the “what ifs.” They have a way of murmuring and whispering their way through each day until the final post-surgical pathology report comes in, no matter how much the odds tell them to shut the hell up.

As a doctor’s kid, I was well-taught to comfort myself with the knowledge that “medicine is all odds.” I know that getting ahead of myself with worry takes a physical toll as well as an emotional one, so for the most part, I try to focus on the procedure itself and the pain-in-the-assedness of it all, rather than get caught up in the possibility that I may be in for a longer, far more difficult journey in the case of any malignancy. So I tend to walk into pre-surgical appointments feeling fairly confident. “Yeah, I know the drill,” I think to myself, having been here several times before.

But then, something always cues those damned murmurings. The “Understanding Breast Cancer” poster in the exam room, or the sterile white room itself, which someone has attempted to soften with sparsely placed home decor, including a framed landscape scene of a barn in a field of bluebonnets. The wall art is oddly soothing in its serenity, until one notices its awkward placement near a needle disposal box marked “BIOHAZARD.” I appreciate the efforts to smooth out the rough edges of a sterile environment, but also find it darkly humorous.

Ultrasound. Unsettling statements like, “here’s what concerns us” and “possible solid mass” and “next week’s surgical schedule.” Mammogram and second ultrasound to confirm findings.

Fill the fridge with groceries. Take the kids swimming. Pretend there’s not a golf ball-sized lump in the left half of my swimsuit top. Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait.

Click on either title to link to:

I Found A Lump, Part II
I Found A Lump, Part III

Old Favorites, Part V: I’m Not Kidding, I’m Asking Him for Lottery Numbers

autism-awareness
In honor of World Autism Awareness Day, I’m reposting one of my favorite stories about my son, Sam. While there is nothing about this post that is specifically about autism, it’s still an autism post as his diagnosis is a big part of what makes Sam… Sam. There is far more to him than his neurological profile, but there’s no denying that autism is an integral part of his big, beautiful, quirky, brilliant personality. This was originally published December 12, 2007. Since then, Sam has won a Harry Potter toy train (Train Show Raffle in our former hometown,) a $10 Target Gift Certificate (drawing at school in which three students out of 500 won a prize) and a sweet Lionel Starter Model Train Layout (Raffle Prize at a Train Expo two weeks ago.)

Read more Sam posts by clicking the word “Autism” under the “Categories” tab on the right.

Some of you who read here regularly may remember that my son, Sam, has excellent luck. Unbelievable, really. He wins things.

I have never, in any of my 42 years, won anything. Not that I’m bitter.

IMPORTANT BACKGROUND ITEM #1: Last year, while begrudgingly attending a performance of his sister’s play, Sam won seventy bucks in a raffle, during intermission. Then when he entered another raffle, a mere two days after the first, amidst concerned, maternal warnings that most buyers of raffle tickets do not actually win anything, especially not twice, he won the coveted half-hour massage gift certificate.

I worried about the lesson in all this. Gambling = getting stuff. Argh. Then again, it’s hard to argue with a two-for-two winner.

IMPORTANT BACKGROUND ITEM #2: Sam also enjoys lying convincing me of things. For example, when I say, “Sam, I need you to come over here so we can get your homework going!” he likes to point to a spot just behind me and say something exclamatory, such as, “MOM!! LOOK!! FLYING MONKEYS!!” When I look, he runs away. If he wants, say, a cell phone to call his own, he says that he won one and tells me where to pick it up.

So when he tells me things that seem to be a tad, shall we say, unlikely? I’m a little skeptical.

Yesterday, he came home from school and flopped himself on the couch.

Me: How was school, bud?

Sam: Oh, fine, I guess.

Me: Did anything interesting happen at Chess Club?

Sam: Oh. Well, no, but during lunch I won a bike.

Me (laughing, as I playfully punch him in the arm): Har! That’s funny, Sam.

Sam (with smirky, I-really-hope-she-buys-this smile): No, really. And Chess Club was good, too. I won my match.

Then, we went on to discuss the cold, rainy weather, what I was making for dinner (spaghetti), and the fact that it was quiet since the girls weren’t home yet. Sam got up to go get a snack, and I went looking for his backpack, to see what we had in store for homework.

Yeah, right. He won a bike. Har! How funny.

Then, I opened his binder and found a note penned in big, red, teacher handwriting. The note said, “WOW! SAM WON A BIKE!”

Um. Whut?

Unbeknownst to me, Sam’s school participates in a program in which kids earn points for making healthy lunch choices. Choose healthy items over junkier ones; earn tickets. Prize drawings are held throughout the year, for CD’s and books and pencils. Yesterday, they held the Big Grand Prize Drawing during lunch.

And now he’s the proud owner of the biggest, baddest, sweetest set of red wheels I’ve ever seen.

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The Boy rejoices.

Old Favorites Part III: It’s A Control Thing

Continuing our walk down memory lane… I originally wrote and posted this on July 11, 2007.

I like to sweat. I need it.

Exercise is my mental health program, almost entirely. The actual health benefits take a distant second place to the stress relief I get from it. I suppose I’m slightly addicted to the feeling of an elevated heart rate, as well as the fatigued satisfaction that follows a tough workout, but as habits go, I’m sure I could do worse.

I used to run when I was in high school and college, but my knees won’t let me anymore. I like the full body workout I can get on an elliptical trainer, and I love my Friday spin classes, taught by Pat the Perky Sado-Masochist / NICU Nurse / Bad-Ass, who believes in packing her 45-minute classes chuck-full of steep, virtual-muddy hills, and time trials. There are no downhills in her world, and she smiles and laughs her way through class while kicking the butts of all who dare to claim a flywheel.

Probably because of this, I recently rediscovered my bike.

The actual one, with wheels that touch the ground and move the bike from here to there.

I don’t know how to fix a flat. I can’t name or locate the parts of a bike beyond the wheels and gears and handlebars. Long parked in the garage with its ever-thickening coating of dust and partially deflated tires, seeing the sun only for the occasional leisurely ride with the kids, I finally took it out for a spin a few weeks ago.

Abby and Hannah were over at a friend’s house, either choreographing a dance routine for the camp talent show, or perhaps humiliating neighbor cats by forcing them to wear doll clothes and paper hats, so I asked Sam if he wanted to go with me. He said no, but I dragged him away from the computer and made him go anyway.

Given the choice, Sam will build Lego railroads and airplanes, or drive the Train Simulator from his computer chair for days at a time, so I wanted to get him outside for some exercise. I hadn’t been to the gym in a couple of days because of all the summer-kids-are-home-activities, so I also wanted to make the most of our ride through the streets, and went at a faster pace than our usual family roll through the ‘hood. He seemed to enjoy it in spite of his surprise at the pace (“HEY MOM! WAIT UP!”).

At about four miles, I looped by the house, giving Sam the option of doing another lap or stopping. He wasted no time telling me that, um, he was done, thank you very much, and in need of a Gatorade and some hammock time.

But that ride reminded me that cycling outside brings with it warm breezes in the face, sunshine and goldfinches and summer scents at every turn, like strawberry plants, barbecues, and freshly cut grass.

And downhills. Downhills!

So now I’m hooked.

I rode another four or five miles that day, and then eight or nine the next time. That became routine, so one day last week I rode twelve, just because I knew I could, and I because I thought double digits sounded cool. Yesterday, about halfway through my intended twelve miles, the number “eighteen” got lodged in my head, mostly because I just wanted to see what it would feel like to push it that far. And of course, once I got close to eighteen, I figured I’d make it an even twenty.

It took about 90 minutes, and it was a challenge to walk up the front steps once I got off the bike, but I loved that I did it.

20 miles! Woo hoo!

Not too bad for a confirmed doofus who, according to my mom, used to “trip over blades of grass,” and only very recently sustained injury while braving the treacherous terrain between the front door and my minivan.

One of the things I love about exercise is that I am in complete control, unlike much of the rest of my life, which often seems to set its own course and haul me along for the ride. There are obstacles I can overcome in almost every session, and goals I can reach, sometimes as simple as getting my butt out of the house and through a workout, even when I don’t feel like it.

That pattern and energy builds my confidence and makes me feel strong, and therefore capable of taking control of the rest.

I hated when my knees shouted a loud “NO!” to the running option a year or two ago; I don’t like admitting defeat. But biking is much easier on 41 year-old bones and joints, and although real cyclists know that 20 miles is roughly equivalent to a jog in the park, cycling mileage sounds far more impressive than the three or four miles that I could manage when I used to go out to run, beating up and breaking down my shins and knees and feet with every step on the hard pavement.

I like to sweat. I like the mental vacation. I like to push myself to see what I can do.

But before I take the bike much farther, I guess I need to figure out if I can fix a flat tire.

Hannah Unplugged

From Hannah’s Goofus and Gallant files (even though I was more of a Hidden Pictures kind of kid, myself:)

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And it’s not even TV Turnoff Week!

Those three little kids on the couch on the left… anyone care to guess who’s who?

I Resolve

… to not resolve a single damn thing, except for the stuff that I’m resolving already.

Besides, I already belong to (and go to, even) a gym, I’m nice to my neighbors, I eat green vegetables, drink V8, and I write (almost) every day.

My children won’t be better behaved next year, the bathroom sink will not be shinier, I won’t clear out the clutter littering the basement, and I’m sure there will be even more dust bunnies under my couch.

However, 2008 will be the best year ever. I believe!

This Is Why I Exercise

Again, with the soup. I’m sorry, I can’t help it. I blame my grandmothers.

Beef Stew with Herbed Dumplings

This is my favorite version of a winter beef stew, which is, as far as I’m concerned, one of VERY FEW existing saving graces of cold weather (the others are: 2) ice skating, and 3) hot chocolate.) This stew is very easy to make, but takes its sweet time getting cooked. However, the resulting rich, smoky flavor and incredibly tender bites of slow-cooked beef are well worth the time spent within stirring distance.

Making the stew:

3 pounds boneless beef chuck, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 TBLS peanut oil
5 thick-sliced bacon strips, chopped (I used Trader Joe’s Applewood Smoked Center Cut Bacon)
3 cups finely chopped onions (3 or 4 medium onions)
3 stalks celery, chopped
3 or 4 cloves fresh garlic, pressed or finely chopped
2 tsp dried thyme
1 bay leaf
5 1/2 cups low-sodium canned beef broth (can sub a cup or two of red wine for some of the broth)
1 14 1/2-ounce can crushed tomatoes with added purée

6 medium carrots, peeled, cut diagonally into 1-inch pieces
3 medium yukon gold potatoes, peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces

3 TBSP cornstarch (optional; can be used to thicken stew if necessary)

And then, the dumplings. If you’re in a hurry, you can go the Bisquick route (Bisquick + milk + scallions tossed in the pot,) or skip them altogether, and serve up the stew with a hearty bread, instead.)

2/3 cup whole milk (sorry Bon Appetit, I used lowfat)
2 large eggs
3 TBLS minced chives or 2 scallions (green parts only, chopped)
2 TBSP minced fresh Italian parsley
1 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour (I subbed whole wheat flour for about half of the total amount)
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Place rack in center of oven; preheat to 325°F.

Sprinkle beef with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Heat oil in large, ovenproof pot over medium-high heat. Working in two batches, cook beef until brown, stirring occasionally and scraping up browned bits, about 8 minutes. Transfer meat to bowl.

Add bacon to the same pot. Sauté until crisp, about 5 minutes. (I discarded about 2/3 of the bacon grease after sautéing.) Add onions, celery, garlic, thyme and bay leaf. Cover and cook until onions are tender, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Return beef to pot. Add five cups canned beef broth and crushed tomatoes. Cover and bring to a simmer.

Transfer pot to oven. Bake until beef is just tender, stirring occasionally, about one hour. Add carrots and potatoes. Cover; bake until vegetables are crisp-tender, about 30 minutes. Uncover; bake until beef is very tender, about 25 minutes.

While the stew bakes, prep the dumplings: Whisk milk and eggs in medium bowl. Stir in chives and parsley. Let stand at room temp for 30 minutes. Sift flour, baking powder and salt into large bowl. Add milk mixture. Stir just until blended.

(The following step is optional — I didn’t bother.) Whisk remaining 1/2 cup beef broth and cornstarch in small bowl to blend. Bring stew to simmer over medium heat. Stir cornstarch mixture into stew. Return to a simmer, stirring until sauce thickens.

(This part is cool; alert the kids!) Spoon dumpling batter in 12 dollops on top of simmering stew. Cover tightly; simmer until dumplings are puffed and tester inserted into center of dumplings comes out clean, about 15 minutes.

Tooooooo delicious.