The Power of the Pickle and Other Thoughts

This past weekend I put my bikes on the back of my Honda and headed for the hills. Of west-central Massachusetts, to be more precise. My friend and fellow blogger Karen lives up there and invited me to join her at the JAM Fund Grand FUNdo. The ride was top-notch: very hilly, well-stocked rest stations, full-on pig roast bbq and local craft beer at the end.

bikes + friends + countryside = awesome
bikes + friends + countryside = awesome

While there, a former pro cyclist approached me about my scar. Turns out she had a total thyroidectomy a few years ago (hers was benign) and is currently not racing due to overtraining.

She shared with me a few gems, one of which was that once your thyroid is removed your body functions differently from when you had the organ even though you are replacing the hormones. As an athlete, it’s easy to build into a certain level of fitness. How the body functions with just the hormones is slightly different. She shared a story about a training ride where she became severely hypothermic, which was her “a-ha” moment about how her body functions differently now.

(The thyroid controls a surprising number of body functions through secretion of thyroid hormones including metabolism, growth, body temperature, muscle strength, appetite, and the health of your heart, brain, kidneys, and reproductive system.)

This was welcome anecdotal evidence, as I’ve noticed my body isn’t responding the same way it used to. I get goose-bumps earlier in hot rides than I used to – which is my key to drink more fluids, dial down the intensity, and stay in the shaded areas as much as possible. The Mini FUNdo we did featured 25 miles of uphill before the glorious 15 miles of downhill – and by mile 22, my muscles weren’t crying but I was definitely Not Myself. Thankfully the rest stop had bananas and, more importantly, pickles.

finally, some downhill!
finally, some downhill!

Never underestimate the power of a pickle to revive you on a hot bike ride.

The rest of the weekend was exactly the relaxing, rejuvenating experience I needed. We biked, we laughed, we talked, and we ate. As working moms, it’s not easy for us to just take a weekend to ride bikes – but I’m so glad Karen was up for it and I was in a place where I could be as active as I wanted … even if it isn’t at my former fitness level.

let's go check out this new trail!
let’s go check out this new trail!

Another friend of mine, Dani, made an excellent observation. She asked me if I had held back my voice – because the thyroid is in the throat chakra and maybe I needed to learn how to be my own advocate more, to speak up and not be afraid of what others think or will say by voicing my concerns or opinion.While I still harbor internal concerns that vulnerability makes me a liability, the reality is I have suppressed my needs too much. It’s OK to ask for help, for down-time, and to take care of me first.

The irony certainly doesn’t escape me that I have moved to a city that never sleeps, is always pushing forward, and thrives on the dreams and ambitions of millions of people – and my body is quite literally telling me to slow down, take time to breathe and relax, and to enjoy life.

Of course, I immediately signed up for another very hilly ride locally in October. I’m hoping to get through my radioactive iodine treatment over the next 2 weeks and get back to building up my cycling strength. I don’t think I’ll see anywhere close to the same stats as last year and I’m making my peace with it. I’ll ride as much as I can and seek out my happy-place as often as possible.

riding by the lake
riding by the lake

See you on the road!

C is for Cycling … and also for Cancer

The last 10 days or so have been a doozy.

My thyroidectomy went well. After the procedure, I was in Recovery for about 6 hours – much longer than anyone else who was in the surgical unit for other procedures so I watched a lot of people come and go. A few others in Recovery weren’t pleased to see my incision and requested things to block their view of me during their recovery time. Because yeah, it did kinda look like some rando had slashed my throat and the docs had slapped surgical tape over it.

An inch or so isn’t a lot until you see it on your neck. The neck doesn’t have a lot of real estate, so it looks much bigger than you expect.

going home after surgery
going home after surgery

This past Monday was pathology results day – and when I found out that I actually had thyroid cancer.

The brain kindof freezes when you hear the C word. Of course it does. The thoughts in your brain swirl around chemo, hair loss, nausea, fatigue, the epic battle for your body and will to live. Which is why I was so thankful to hear:

“The important take-away from this conversation is that you will live a long and healthy life.”

running errands with my husband, 5 days post-op
running errands with my husband, 5 days post-op

Fun Facts:

Thyroid cancer is the ninth most common cancer in the US, with the number of cases rising each year. No one is completely sure why there is an increase in cases (better technology to identify the cancer early may be a contributing factor) but the death rate has remained low – virtually unchanged since 2002.

Risk factors include:

  • being female
  • a diet low in iodine (rare in the US)
  • exposure to radiation (radiation was used widely before the 1960s for an array of ailments; nuclear accidents; etc)
  • hereditary/genetic
  • family history (Having a first-degree relative (parent, brother, sister, or child) with thyroid cancer, even without a known inherited syndrome in the family, increases your risk)

There are four main types of thyroid cancer:

  • Papillary, which accounts for 70-80% of all thyroid cancers
  • Follicular/Hurthle cell, which accounts for 10-15% of thyroid cancers
  • Medullary, which accounts for 5-10% and is usually hereditary
  • Anaplastic, which accounts for less than 2% and is the most aggressive and unfortunately deadliest

Treatment for thyroid cancer includes surgery (got that out of the way!), radioactive iodine, external beam radiation, and chemotherapy. Most thyroid cancers are cured with surgery and radioactive iodine. Thyroid cancer is actually pretty great for targeted treatment such as radioactive iodine because no other cells in the body soak up iodine like the thyroid does – so the thyroid cells are killed while the rest of the body remains healthy. (pretty neat, right?)

The 5 year survival rate for anyone diagnosed with thyroid cancer today is 97% – and the 10 year survival rate for those who are younger than 45 and the cancer is localized (has not spread to other parts of the body) is 100%.

9 days post-op and got in a gentle 16 mile bike ride. it felt amazing!
9 days post-op and got in a gentle 16 mile bike ride. it felt amazing!

The good news is that I am young (under 45), relatively healthy (outside of this bump in the road), and the cancer was localized (according to my surgeon). I have my post-op follow-up in a few weeks with my surgeon and then a conversation with my new endocrinologist a few days later to discuss the appropriate next steps. I’ve started writing a list of questions for him because I tend to forget to ask while I’m at the appointment.

If I’m being totally honest, I was a bit numb after hearing my thyroid pathology came back as cancer. I immediately latched onto the positive points and rehashed those as my narrative publicly. I received a tsunami of support and messages of love from my friends and family while I tried feabily to pass it off as Not A Big Deal. The next morning though I started doing my research and started to panic. OMG this is serious, but thankfully not deadly so. I don’t even know which kind I have/had. Radioactive iodine requires an isolation period. How is that going to work? And there’s a million follow-ups while they get the dosage of levothyroxine correct plus following up to make sure the radioactive iodine worked …. what about work? We’re already swamped – I can’t be taking off time for all this!

I had to put down the internet and go busy myself with what’s really important: my family, my friends, and living life. Work is important too – I’m the primary financial contributor to our family – but I can’t work if I’m not healthy. I am incredibly thankful for the support my boss and company have given me.

Yesterday I went out for a bike ride and made some determinations:

  • Yes I have/had cancer.
  • No it doesn’t define me.
  • But it’s OK to feel like it’s a big deal – because it is. It’s a part of my life story now.

I can ask questions at my next two appointments to get more clarity on what I had and what we can do next.

I will always need to be on top of my medication and communicate with my doctors.

I will live a long and healthy life – and look forward to rebuilding my base miles and bicycling strength soon.

See you on the road!

Internet Reference Sites (in case you want to learn more!):

ThyCa: Thyroid Cancer Survivor’s Association

EndocrineWeb

American Thyroid Association

National Cancer Institute

Endocrine Diseases

American Cancer Society

Let’s play catch-up, shall we dear reader? When we last left off we were on the cusp of spring … and now we are hurtling straight into summer.

from my train ride home one evening. moment of zen
from my train ride home one evening. moment of zen

Personal Transition

We finally made the move and are now in our new home. We closed on the house just a few days after the one-year mark of when I committed to relocating with my job. After such a long and protracted transition, the entire family has settled into our new life fairly quickly. Uncertainty can take a toll on a person and strain any relationship – and we managed to pull through with relatively few emotional wounds. The house is in a lovely neighborhood about 40 miles north of the Big Apple with lots of kids. It’s not uncommon for me to get home in the evening to find my younger two kids out roaming the neighborhood with their new friends, playing until well after dark and coming home sweaty and dirty and more importantly, happy. +1 for our little family!

welcome to my backyard
welcome to my backyard

Bikey Stuff!

Having the extra time in Philly was also very nice. I was able to squeak out a few really nice rides with my friends, including an 88-mi, 5400+’ of gain ride to get lunch in St Peter’s Village that I had no business doing – but felt amazing when I finished! I haven’t felt depleted after a long, hilly ride like that in a while and it felt GREAT.  I planned to do a low-key girls-only ride to get lunch (25mi ride) but wound up with bronchitis and had to cancel all my plans for a few weekends. Then we moved ….

Andy and Ken joined me on the 88mi epic. Perfect day for a ride!
Andy and Ken joined me on the 88mi epic. Perfect day for a ride!

I rode the 5 Boro Tour again this year, this time with my friend Elizabeth. We were slotted in the first wave and what a difference that made! Yes there were still a lot of people but it was FUN. We rode the whole route together, which was surreal when I’d point out a place where the 4-lane street had been literally wall-to-wall cyclists standing around the year prior due to various levels of bicyclists trying to ride together. This year demonstrated why people do this ride year after year. I’m hoping to take my eldest son on it next year.

Elizabeth and I at the start of the 5 Boro Tour.
Elizabeth and I at the start of the 5 Boro Tour.

Up in our new area I’ve been scoping a bike route to the train station (about 12.5 miles each way; about 600′ gain to the station, 900+’ gain on the way home). I’ve seen cyclists on the roads so I know it’s possible (and Strava Global Heat Maps confirms it’s a decent route) but a few concerns that I need to work through:

1. Lots of two-lane no-shoulder roads. I’ve not been successful yet in finding alternate back-roads to use – very few roads actually connect. The roads are not terribly heavily trafficked – but there is some volume, especially at certain times. And there are a few dangerous intersections that would require I get a mirror for my glasses so I could safely navigate.

2. After about 45-60min on the bike, I have a 60 min train ride to the city. Do I feel comfortable being stinky on a train for an hour?

2a. The train station has bike lockers but refuses to rent them out. ??? So my bike would be locked to an open-air public rack. I’ve seen a few other bikes there in the morning so I know people bike to the station … but probably not as far as I’m thinking of doing.

3. Shower Situation when I get to the City. NYSC has $20 memberships and a club a few blocks from GCT; or I could check out the gym at work.

Really all just logistics – and while I am chomping at the bit to actually ride to the train station and back home, I need to work these things out before I do so. Arrive Alive!

There is a major bike path (36 miles!) with an access point fairly close to our home (a couple miles) that I can’t wait to ride and take my kids. It’s an old railroad bed so it’s fairly flat and shaded. A welcome respite from New York drivers!

Health News

I noticed a lump in my neck a few months back. I had been blowing off the feeling of swallowing behind something for a while, thinking it was a mild cold or allergies or something else. After several rounds of testing and various procedures, it turns out I have a multinodal goiter. Due to the size and number of nodules (and that it impacts my ability to swallow), I’m having a thyroidectomy in about a week. I’ve been advised to take 2 weeks to recover and at least 1 week with no exercise. So the plan is to get past surgery and recovery before throwing my leg over the top tube and getting back into the swing of things.

This past week I contracted a cold that rapidly turned into a sinus infection so I’m taking the surgical recovery period very seriously. My body is telling me I’ve been overdoing it – even though I feel like I haven’t done anything – and I need to listen if I’m going to be able to get back into running and cycling again. I have a few events planned for later in the summer that I need to begin training for – but that will wait! Even though I desperately want to just ride my bike.

Looking forward to seeing you on the road soon!

PHL -> BKLYN

Yesterday I embarked on my local bike club’s annual ride from Philadelphia to Brooklyn, the Peter O’Dell Memorial Ride. I struggled with the decision to go, having a few very low days emotionally and wasn’t sure I’d be up to the challenge not only of pedaling (I chose the 90mi route) but also of being upbeat and mentally ready. My last significant rides were 110mi in early July and a metric a few weeks ago – so I’m not exactly in All Day Epic shape. In the end I decided I would regret not going more than regret going (and I could always take the train back home if I felt it necessary). 

What a great day! 

After waking entirely too early (5am!) and picking up my friend Ken, we arrived at the New Hope, PA starting point right at 7am. Many other cycling friends were also milling about, making final preparations for the ride – Kurt, John, Catherine, Phil, and Jeff (who was SAGing this mostly-unsupported ride for us), among others. We loaded our shower bags into the bus and started the journey about 7:30am under cool but humid cloudy skies. 

The first thirty miles were mostly rural, passing fields of pumpkins, corn, and apple orchards. 

New Jersey Farmland
New Jersey Farmland

We stopped in Raritan, NJ at the local Wawa-wannabe (Quick Chek) for bathrooms, ice water and a brief snack. The lunch stop was “only” 12 miles later so we didn’t feel the need to refuel too much. 

Those 12 miles included a hill that just. kept. going. Every turn, the incline kept going – about a mile at a 6% grade. Ken and I had swept up another cyclist on the ride, Adam, and stayed with him through the hill. He ended up staying with us until just after lunch. At this point we were literally dripping with sweat and sipping our electrolyte-enhanced beverages frequently. 

Lunch in Lyons, NJ at a Subway. Apparently New Jersey doesn’t have any good local hoagie shops? Food is good and so is air conditioning, which we relished as the sun had burned through the clouds and the temps were climbing into the upper 80s. 

A quick jaunt north to Basking Ridge to see a 600+ year old tree. It was pretty impressive. 

this tree is over 600 years old and in a church's side-yard cemetery.
this tree is over 600 years old and in a church’s side-yard cemetery.

By this point, Ken had switched off with Dave, who had been piloting a tandem with our friend Catherine, who happens to be blind. Adam hooked back in with a larger group of cyclists. So I pedaled off to catch up with Ken at the next rest stop in Kenilworth, NJ. And oh, was this the most delicious part of the ride. 

I zipped along, unencumbered by others. It’s not that I don’t love riding with my friends (I prefer it, actually) but sometimes the solitude is exactly what is needed. As I turned on to Sky Top Rd, I knew this was going to be an excellent hill. I didn’t attack it but I didn’t submit to it either – it was almost effortless. The road curved and rose (it was about a mile of 5% grade) in front of me, lovely forest hugging the edges. 

sky top rd. the only way is up.
sky top rd. the only way is up.

It was truly a transcendent experience, one that I can’t adequately express to you dear reader in words. 

A few miles later, I was bombing down another rd, twisting out of the Watchtung Reservation and into Echo Lake Park. I ran into a few other cyclists taking a quick break so I opted to hook in with them for a bit (and refill water). I dropped back off in Kenilworth where Ken and Catherine were waiting (with others). Dave went back to captaining the tandem and Ken was back riding with me. 

At this point, the ride turns more urban as we meander through Elizabeth and into Newark. We rode through the Newark Port, which was mercifully devoid of vehicles (and unfortunately trees) after navigating city streets. We met up with another group and got Mike to drive behind our cycling groups to get over the Route 1-9 bridge into Jersey City. Craziest bridge to negotiate – I do not recommend attempting alone/without a car behind you to keep the New Jersey drivers away from you. A large swath of the bridge was open grate, which can be extremely slippery for cyclists. 

More city streets as we navigated our way to Hoboken and the ferry terminal. About a mile from the terminal, the skies opened up and we were doused with a torrential downpour. As in, we couldn’t see Manhattan across the river (and it’s not that far). After the hot and humid day we’d had, I can’t say the rain wasn’t welcome. Ken and I sought refuge under a few trees (which is totally not what you should do in a thunderstorm but we didn’t have any other options) until the rain let up enough to continue to the ferry. 

The ferry ride was a ferry ride – although we did see a beautiful rainbow over Manhattan. 

Once in Midtown, the sun came back out and we pedaled down the Hudson River Greenway. A lovely separated cycletrack with separate signals! We mused that this would be perfect for the I-95 corridor in Philadelphia, with the new development happening on the abandoned piers. 

Following the signs for cyclists getting to the Brooklyn Bridge we navigated the city streets. Always brings out the aggressively-defensive cyclist in me. 

The Brooklyn Bridge is beautiful. It’s also full of pedestrians who seem to think the bike lane is also for walking, taking photos, etc. It’s also got a wooden deck and after the rain, I was skiddish about needing to stop suddenly – so I employed my best “Get Out Of The Bike Lane” voice to clear the path. 

There are SO MANY PEOPLE in New York. 

We negotiated the final city streets, arriving at the hotel about 9 and three-quarters hours after we set out. We grabbed a cold beverage and a bag of chips while we waited for the showers to be available so we could clean up and change. Dinner at a local restaurant (MooBurger) before climbing on a bus to take us back to New Hope. 

 

Dropped off Catherine and Ken before getting home to my own family around Midnight – tired, happy, a little saddle-sore but tremendously thankful for the amazing experience. Philadelphia won’t be home for much longer and New York (although not Brooklyn) will be home soon – I can’t think of a better way to go out. 

 

See you on the road! 

PS – if you like stats and route maps, click below : 

New Hope to Hoboken 

Manhattan to Brooklyn

Can You Tell Me How To Get …

This week my place of employment afforded me an opportunity of a lifetime – to visit the set of an iconic children’s television program.

visitor badge
visitor badge

 

Let’s back this up a bit – when I was a child, pay-television was on the cusp of the tipping point where it would spill into our homes and lives and become a “necessity” not a luxury. My parents decided not to pay for television, so we only had broadcast stations – the local affiliates, PBS, and a handful of other channels. “Television is a thief – it steals your time”. My sisters and I were allowed to watch three out of four programs in the afternoon – Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, Sesame Street, 3-2-1 Contact, and Reading Rainbow. Pick three, but never all four. Often, Reading Rainbow was the one cut – not because we didn’t love it but because we would tune in right away to Mr Roger’s Neighborhood.

Never mind that I have fond memories of watching Dr. Who with my dad on PBS or being scared watching “Jaws” on the local affiliate. Cheers and Hill Street Blues were some of my favorite evening programs growing up – I got none of the jokes but thought the theme songs were so cool. Imagine my amusement years later when I went to college, got cable TV and binged for the first couple months. Wait – there’s SOMETHING ELSE that is TOTALLY AWESOME coming on next? Why yes, I’d be happy to watch more television!

Television truly is a thief – it stole a LOT of my time in college.

Anyway – I used to watch Sesame Street all the time. As a suburban kid, the concept of the urban neighborhood was foreign and exotic. I wanted so badly to go to Sesame Street. Even though the end credits said it was in New York, NY what that really meant was I was nowhere close to ever getting to Sesame Street.

My junior year in high school I took a media class and learned about radio and television. I loved the radio portion of the class but really loved the television part more. So much so that I volunteered to be the student producer/director on the program about the new high school being built for the school district’s television station. I produced two broadcast-half-hour shows and loved every minute of it. Looking back now, the shows are terribly amateur – but at the time I was very proud of my work.

Naturally I majored in television production in college. I’m one of the “lucky” people who then found a job in my industry. I have worked my way up from being a tape jockey – pushing huge carts of tapes from the library to the control rooms at a massive operations facility – to where I am today – analyzing ratings to drive changes to our schedule that will increase and retain viewership, plan special programming, figure out the promotional plans for network priorities, and manage a team that does the day-to-day work necessary to keep a cable network on the air.

Not ironic or anything that the girl who hardly watched television now makes a living working in television.

Anyway – back to the point. I am finally able to tick the box next to “Get To Sesame Street” on my list of lifelong dreams. Being on set is somewhat magical – children everywhere watch this program. And here they are … making the program! The iconic steps, the street sign. Mr Hooper’s Store. Big Bird’s nest. And I had  the opportunity to meet Cookie Monster and have my photo taken with him. The four and five year old me was giddy with excitement!

THE Cookie Monster and I
THE Cookie Monster and I

 

But it doesn’t escape my thoughts that for these people working on the production – the puppeteers, the cameramen, the directors, editors and puppet wranglers – this is just what they do every day.

And in that, I became very aware and thankful for the opportunities – the ups and down – that have led me to this place my life. That something we take for granted may be someone else’s magical moment.

Take that with you, meditate on it. There is beauty in the routine, the mundane, the things you move through in your everyday life.

See you on the road.