Tuesday, November 29, 2005

To Live STRONG...

From the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU to each and every one of you for your love and support. Today has been a better day. How could it "not" be when I have my friends and family who leaned with me and gently pushed me back up when I was down.

I've done alot of thinking over the last 24 hours and I am happy to say that, in general, I am still in the mix, still willing to fight for every moment because I decided in Feb 2005 when I was diagnosed, that I AM A SURVIVOR. Whatever the outcome ... 5 years, 10 years ... 60 years from now... I'm not going down without a fight!

More to come ... but for now I'd like to share this Manefesto from the Lance Armstrong Foundation. I'm off to the gym for a 30 minute workout. I have been slacking for long enough and I have a 1/2 Ironman in August!!

- Holly

We believe in life.
Your life.
We believe in living every minute of it with every ounce of your being.
And that you must not let cancer take control of it.
We believe in energy: channeled and fierce.
We believe in focus: getting smart and living strong.
Unity is strength. Knowledge is power. Attitude is everything.
This is the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

We kick in the moment you’re diagnosed.
We help you accept the tears. Acknowledge the rage.
We believe in your right to live without pain.
We believe in information. Not pity.
And in straight, open talk about cancer.
With husbands, wives and partners. With kids, friends and neighbors. And the people you live with, work with, cry and laugh with.
This is no time to pull punches.
You’re in the fight of your life.

We’re about the hard stuff.
Like finding the nerve to ask for a second opinion.
And a third, or a fourth, if that’s what it takes.
We’re about getting smart about clinical trials.
And if it comes to it, being in control of how your life ends.
It’s your life. You will have it your way.

We’re about the practical stuff.
Planning for surviving. Banking your sperm. Preserving your fertility. Organizing your finances. Dealing with hospitals, specialists, insurance companies and employers.
It’s knowing your rights.
It’s your life.
Take no prisoners.

We’re about the fight.
We’re your champion on Capitol Hill. Your advocate with the healthcare system. Your sponsor in the research labs.
And we know the fight never ends.
Cancer may leave your body, but it never leaves your life.
This is the Lance Armstrong Foundation.
Founded and inspired by one of the toughest cancer survivors on the planet.


Sunday, November 27, 2005

Down but not out...Adapting

I think there is a bunch of stuff that has combined in my life that has dragged me down just a little bit. It's been some time since I struggled this much with my emotional well-being. The anti-depression meds I am taking to counteract the side effects of the Interferon have been doing their job very well but drugs can only do so much.

I think my latest funk can be attributed to a few factors:

1. No significant exercise since the Marine Corps Marathon (4 weeks - less than 3 workouts a week and none in the last week)

2. Extra work on a big, high profile project for Work (to be completed Dec 1)

3. The upcoming holiday season (I think I missed my family more than I thought I might and am anxious to see them in 3 weeks...)

4. Some new reading that I have come across on Melanoma and the impact (or lack thereof) of Interferon on overall recurrence.

Since my ankle seems fully healed, Factor number 1 is immediately resolvable. I plan to do what I can to get back to some kind of routine this week.

The extra work will be done December 1st, regardless of the outcome... but it is looking to be an outstanding outcome. Cross that off the list...

3 weeks is not all that long to wait to see my family and I am bringing Jim home with me!! It is a holiday to look forward to.

That just leaves me with the giant millstone around my neck that is Malignant Melanoma and my treatment. I'm struggling.

The article, which you can find here
discusses how Dr.'s can help patient's make decisions regarding High-Dose Interferon treatment.

This is the first paragraph that slapped me in the face:

"Among patients destined to recur, a year's worth of HD IFN treatment can delay the time of recurrence in a small subset, although for half of these patients this delay will be less than 1 year. However, the overall chance of recurrence and the overall survival is not improved. This means that, if the patient is destined to relapse and die of melanoma, HD IFN does not affect this nor does it significantly delay the time of death."

This example punched me in the gut, since it is my exact diagnosis:

"As an example, we may consider a stage IIIB patient with a single, palpable regional lymph node involved with melanoma. This patient has an approximately 50% chance of dying from melanoma over 5 years, a risk that is not improved by HD IFN according to the published data. This means that if the patient chooses to receive HD IFN, he runs a 50% risk that he will spend at least 20% of his remaining time (presumably the best 20%, because it is the year immediately after surgery) on HD IFN."

FIRST OFF, I acknowledgee that the paragraph above has an awful "tone"! It would read much better if they said "this patient has an approximatelyy 50% chance of surviving Melanoma over 5 years..." but it doesn't.

My immediate friends and family would say "Stop reading, don't think about it" but the truth is that I have to think about it and I have to acknowledge the entire scope of this diagnosis. I haven't been doing that much lately. I'm not sure how much lately has been "Living STRONG" and how much has been "pretending WELL".

A very wise friend and Old Man sent me a wonderful book some months ago that I devoured call "Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies and Why" by Laurence Gonzales. While the stories are those of epic survival .. the philosophy applies.

The book talks about how we build "mental models" and then act according to our expectations instead of acknowledging that the environment we are in has changed. Those who do not recognize the change, make decisions based on false expectations and in these examples; die. The survivors are the people who "at some point" acknowledge that things are different and they have to react to what is happening "here and now" and adapt.

The "RULES OF ADVENTURE" are outlines as follows:

1. Perceive,believe
2. Stay Calm
3. Think/Analyze/Plan
4. Take correct, decisive action
5. Celebrate your successes
6. Count your blessings
7. Play
8. See the beauty
9. Believe that you will succeed
10. Surrender
11. Do whatever is necessary
12. Never Give Up!

Sounds like some pretty good rules to me. Time to put more of them in action.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Giving Thanks...

I'm thankful for so much this year that I am having a hard time putting into words what Thanksgiving means to me this year... instead of struggling through a pile of *words* I will simply wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving.


Friday, November 18, 2005



This morning on my regular walk into work, my right ankle decided it had had enough and rolled dramatically lurching me towards the street. In an effort to avoid becoming road kill, I attempted to arrest my fall in a series of pinwheels and hops. I am sorry to say that the laws of physics cannot be broken.

I still fell - but at least my pinwheeling and hops landed me on my side on the "side walk".

Apparently it was such a dramatic fall that the man *across the street* yelled out "Are you OK?"

I jumped up, brushed myself off and yelled "Yeah, Thanks" and walked the last 1/4 mile to my office, knowing that the adrenaline rush from the fall would probably only last as long as it took to get my desk - so I had better take advantage of it.

Once in the office, I grabbed some ICE from the cafeteria and took 2 Advil from my desk drawer pharmacy. Then I hobbled (adrenaline wearing off) over to the University Doctor in the Health & Fitness Center.

He proclaimed my right ankle : "Level 1 Sprain", wrapped it nice and tight and told me to stay off it as much as possible this weekend and to take it VERY EASY for the next 10 days.

Looks like I will be focusing on ABS and Upper Body work for the next week or so.

Just call me "Clumsy" .... Hope everybody has a good weekend!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


Last night I had my first "official" swim workout since May 2005. Coach Debi has me on a new workout schedule that involves 3 days ON/1 day OFF for the next 4 weeks. Daily workouts focus on "one sport" (swim, bike, run) and average anywhere from 20-45 minutes to help me get back in the multisport groove. She has also added some "core building exercises" at my request. I want to gain some core body strength this winter!!

Back to my first swim in six months. It took me 20 minutes to log 600 yards and I was truly tired at the end. Now I understand why Coach Debi said "Just focus on 25 yards at a time, Holly, and practice good form." She must have known how much it was going to kick my butt!!

Some Observations from my "First Swim of the NEW Season"

• I'm slow ... sea turtle slow....

• My ears hurt *a lot* when I tried to alternate laps from Freestyle to Backstroke - so endeded up sticking to the Freestyle - I must have some weird sinus stuff going on (probably Interferon related) since I have never had pain like that in previous years.

• I need a new bathing suit because my current suit rubs against my port on every right arm stroke - it's not painful but it sure is "annoying and distracting" - Time for New Gear!!

• When I got out of the pool I was "dizzy and light-headed" - seems my equilibrium is a little off (again possible sinus issues? Damn Interferon!)

Anybody have any suggestions/solutions for the ear pain??


Tuesday, November 15, 2005

TRI-ing a little harder...

Okay, I am back. No really after about 2 weeks of doing "everything else" and recovering from the Marine Corps Marathon, I am re-establishing "normal". I am back on my Interferon shots ( 5 MIU for now) and I have finally established a new fitness goal.

I struggled a little. A lot of people, including my Oncologist, have been asking me .. "What's Next?" and I really didn't have much of an answer for a few days. Oh my immediate answer was "I just ran a Marathon" that's enough for now!" but it never really is enough. I'd rather have a race to train for than just mindlessly go to the gym 5 days a week. That's just how I am ...

So the goal for Late Summer/Early Fall 2006 is going to be : Complete a 1/2 IronMan Triathlon

I have done this distance before, so I know I am capable of it AND it is a good stepping stone on the road back towards my ultimate goal of completing a full Ironman distance race by the time I am 40.

Races I am considering: Half Vermont Journey - August 27th, 2006 OR Oddessey Half Ironman - September 16th, 2006

Of course I am always open to suggestions! Any favorite Fall Half Ironmans out there that you wouldn't miss?

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Still Here ...

Sorry I have been so quiet since Marine Corps. I guess my recovery extended into a little blog break. Triathlon/endurance sports wise it has been a quiet week. I did a 35 minute spin on the bike trainer on Tuesday and will take a spin tonight after work. I am headed out of town for the weekend so I plan to take full advantage of the pool at the Marriott since it is very likely to be TOO COLD to go for a run up in Manchester, N.H. You'd never know I was born in New England, I am such a "cold weather WIMP" now a days. It's been years since I attended a wedding so I am looking forward to the weekend and the mini-college reunion.
I'd like to take a moment and welcome a new little someone!

Joseph Diastado Y. was born yesterday to Liz and Kevin. He came into the world at 7 pound and 18 inches long.

May your every wish and dream come true Joseph!!
Live STRONG and a good weekend everybody!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Slow day ...

You Passed 8th Grade Math

Congratulations, you got 9/10 correct!

Now my Mom will say I have no excuses ... I have proven that I can at least handle 8th Grade Math....

Thanks to my favorite pseudo-brother Mark for posting this link for me to play around at.

Recovery and the Weekend Ahead

My recovery from the marathon is going well. By yesterday the pain in my legs was minimal and this morning I was walking up and down the METRO escalators like my old self. Looks like it will be time to run again soon!! Some of my GIRLS (you know who you are!) gave me some great recommendations for post-marathon recovery. I tried the "cool soak" in the bathtub after the marathon and it seemed to help. Not once did I have to walk down any stairs backwards in the last 72 hours!!

I started back on my subq Interferon shots on Tuesday at 5 MIU. My bloodwork showed that my white blood cell count was normal (WOOHOO!!) but I am still anemic. (DARN!!) Better one than both right? 2nd shot happens tonight but so far the side effects have been minimal and expected. A little under 7 months left!! 30 week to go!

On Sunday, Nancy and *jeanne* are running the ING New York City Marathon on Sunday. I won't be in town but I will be thinking of them both all day and hoping they have the BEST RACES EVER!! GO LADIES GO!!!!

This weekend I will be in South Carolina, in my fancy driving shoes tooling around a track driving a BMW Z-3!! I am going to go as fast as I dare and will be having a wonderful time! We are staying at some fancy 5-star Hotel and will be eating at some of the finer restaurants in the area. This could be a "lifestyle" I could easily become accustomed to.

I'm out of here until Monday! Hope everybody has a great weekend! Keep Living STRONG!!

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Race Report: Marine Corps Marathon

Marine Corps Marathon - October 31, 2005
Chip Time: 6:08:09
Pace: 14:01

Executive Summary: A perfect day for a Marathon! I met all 3 of my goals! 1.) Have Fun - 2.) Beat the 14th Street Bridge 3.) FINISH!

The rest of the story: (Might want to get a glass of water or coffee)

Last year I chose to defer my Marine Corps Marathon entry because I wasn't able to put in the quality training that I thought necessary and I did the 8K race instead. As I watch the Marathon start that day, I called my boyfriend Jim from the start line and said "I want to do another marathon!" In that moment I decided that i would run the 2005 Marine Corps Marathon. Just 4 months later I was diagnosed with Malignant Melanoma and put on track for two surgeries and a year of chemotherapy. A lot of my race plans changed except for my goal to finish the Marine Corps Marathon. I simply refused to take it off my schedule for another year.

Following my successful Army 10 Miler of 11.4 miles I was pretty confident that I had what it took to show up on race day for the Marine Corps Marathon. A long run of 16 miles about 3 weeks before the marathon confirmed that. At a 2/1 run/walk pace, I felt as though I could have continued on for another 10 miles and was upbeat and happy. Now it was time to focus on the logistics of making the day successful.

My oncologist is a runner himself and he gave me a wonderful gift a week before the Marathon. 10 days off of my chemotherapy treatments (shots 3x a week). It would give my body a chance to recover from some chronic anemia and give me an a little something extra on race day.

The other logistics of race day were lining up my "pacers" for the race. Earlier in summer I had asked my friends and fellow triathletes Keri Hadley and Nancy Toby if they would be willing to pace me in the first 20 miles of the marathon. I knew that not only would I need help keeping motivated to beat the 14th Street Bridge cutoff but that it would also be good to have somebody with me in case something went wrong with my nutrition or general health.

A fellow athlete, Jim Bruckart, offered me his bib for MCM because he was not going to race that day. This would allow Keri and Nancy official access to the course with me. While neither of them would wear a timing chip, they would have a bib on and were willing to help me go the distance to reach my goal.

PACKET PICKUP: What a zoo! I went to the DC Armory on Friday, early afternoon to try to avoid the crowds and ended up in line for 35 minutes to buy a key chain and two Brooks Tech-Tees as gifts for Nancy and Keri. There were people everywhere!! You don't really get a sense of what a race of 30,000 runners really is until you wander around the expo with a couple thousand of them.

RACE DAY: I got up around 6AM, had my typical race breakfast of PB&J and brought a banana for the "wait". I jumped on the metro at 7AM and was at the Pentagon by 7:30AM. Keri and I met up pretty quickly and wandered towards the holding area for the gold wave. This year the Marine Corps was having two separate start waves of Scarlet (8:15 AM Start) and Gold (8:45AM Start). The majority of the racers (18,000) were in the Gold wave so their were plenty of people to watch while we waited to line up in the corals.

The weather was PERFECT! High 40s to start and clear skies with a high of 65 and winds 5-10 miles per hour. Could it get any better??

Upon the boom of the Howitzer, the Gold wave was off and running. There were no start coralls for the Gold wave so I suspect that is the closest that I will ever be to the front at the start line of a Marathon again. The crowd was enormous. I have never run in such a big group before and took advantage as much as I could.

In the first 5 miles there was no getting away from the crowd but that worked to our advantage with the early hills. There was no way to avoid the draft (not that you would want to avoid it) and the crowd simply carried you up the hills. Keri and I did our best to stick to the intervals plan of 2/1 right away. As the watch would count down we would move to the left or right and out of the way of as many people as we could. Even so, we still had to do some passing and their wasn't much elbow room.

In general, even with so many people, everybody was in pretty good spirits. Lots of laughter and smiles and the occasional "Mooo!" At one point we passed under one of several overpasses and I let out a loud "Woohoo" and was met by a chorus of "woohoo's" back from several runners. It was a good day to be out with 20,000 people running a marathon!

Keri was a blast to be with! She was the peppiest person at the Marathon. This was her first time being at a race this big and she was soaking it all in. It was fun to see her so pumped up for a race that she was only running part of. Her enthusiasm was easy to soak up and I took in all that I could.

Overall, Keri's role was to watch the mile splits and keeps us at 13:00-13:00 minute miles and my role was to make sure that we stuck to the interval plan and kept my nutrition on track. I was planning a GU every 3 miles and 2 Endurolyte caps every hour.

Keri did an excellent job of keeping us on track and keeping me occupied. Whenever I started to get a little distracted, i would ask her to tell me stories and she obliged by telling me how she met her husband and was quick to point out where we were and remind me to look at the great sites the Marathon has to offer. At mile 8, Keri reached her longest run ever and we did a little cheer! Every mile after 8 was a new PR for Keri!!

At mile 10 we met up with Nancy Toby and she took over the job of pacing. Nancy's challenge was to keep my gently slowing pace under 14:00 miles for the next 10 miles and to get me over the 14th Street Bridge before the official cutoff. When we came to Nancy, I was in desperate need of a Port-O-Potty stop to empty my bladder. We stopped right around Mile 11 and I took 5 minutes (waiting in line of course) to use the Port-O-Potty. It was entirely worth the wait!!

Mile 12 took us past the front of the Capitol Reflecting Pool and I was treated to Nancy's dancing skills as a local high school band played "Tequila",. She was dancing all around and brought a smile or two to many other runners.

Not long after we hit the 1/2 Marathon point, I confessed to Nancy that I wasn't feeling so great. While I was keeping on track with nutrition my stomach was starting to feel "sloshy" and full. Nancy declared that Mile 13 was the "PUKE" mile and to go ahead and let it go if I would feel better. I told her that "I really didn't want to "puke", could I have another option?"

"Sure!! Take another Endurolyte sodium tablet and let's see if that helps."

So I did take another and by Mile 14 the stomach problems had passed. For the rest of our time together thru Mile 23 Nancy really kept on top of me, asking me questions about where we were, keeping me talking to access my awareness and suggesting more Endurolyte tablets when I started acting confused or slow to respond.

All through the day, the first and most important goal was to "Beat the 14th Street Bridge" at Mile 20. The Gold wave had approximate 5 hours to beat the bridge. The challenge is a combination of keeping your pace up over 14:00 minute miles AND making the most of the 4 miles before the bridge out on Haines Point. Haines Point is part of the National Parks and is a lonely, beautiful 4 mile stretch of land that pokes out over the Potomac River. It is hard for spectators to get to and normally has at least two miles of head winds and two miles of tail wind (if you are lucky enough to get tail winds).

As Nancy and I started the loop around Haines Point, she got right down to business. She told me that I had to work hard to keep my intervals up for the next four miles. If I could maintain our current pace, I would beat the bridge with a good 20 minute buffer and then if I wanted to, I could walk the entire mile on the bridge but I had to be strong now. I took Nancy's coaching to heart and worked as hard as I could to stay on track. As we passed the mid point of Haines Point (by the awakening) we ran into one of Nancy's running friends, Ron Horton, who was running the Marathon and pacing a friend to his first Marathon finish as well. Ron took a great picture of Nancy and I and we all exchanged "Good Luck" wishes for the finish.

As the Mile 19 marker came and went, I began to realize that I was going to do it! I was having a fantastic day, I was still feeling strong and Mile 20 and the bridge were less than 14 minutes away. We saw Jim and Keri just as we exited Haines Point and I gave them a big smile and a thumbs up! We turned right twice and Nancy said to me, "There it is Holly, we are about to get on the 14th Street Bridge."

The scream of joy that came out of me at that moment was long and loud and honestly the most cathartic noise I have made in my life. It came deep from inside me and it made me feel alive and victorious and happy. I was going to finish the Marine Corps Marathon, in spite of cancer, in spite of treatment and because I chose to believe it was possible and was willing to ask for all the "help" that I might need.

Nancy and I tooled up over the bridge past the 20 mile marker and into the heat of running on a highway overpass. That was a LONG mile but soon we were over the bridge and on our way towards Crystal City and Nancy's car. At Mile 22.5, Nancy handed me her bib number and gave me a gentle shove.

"Don't even stop, keep going and if you have it in you, you might be able to go Sub 6:00.."

I passed the 23 mile mark in 5:20:00, with 5K left to go, I honestly didn't have any interest in going Sub 6:00. The goal for the day was simply to beat the 14th Street Bridge and finish the marathon and have fun while doing it.

The last 5K were hard in one respect: It seems that all the fellow runners around me were done running. Most had resigned themselves to walking the last 5K so it took a lot of effort to keep myself on my intervals. Where ever I could in the last 5K, I took advantage of the downhills, knowing that the last 2/10 of a mile to the finish were a sharp uphill 100 foot climb followed by 100 feet of slight uphill.

The crowds in the last mile were awesome! I didn't try to run the whole thing because I wanted to have fun on this day and not "sufffer" so I walked the steep hill and slowly jogged in the last 100 feet with a huge smile across my face, knowing that somewhere in the stands were Keri and Jim and they were cheering me in!


When race day was approaching I thought about putting a quote on the back of my shirt that read "I have Cancer, what is your excuse?" It was kind of my "defense" to all those people who might see me moving slowly on race day and "judge" me. What I finally decided was to not wear anything that would draw attention to me at all. I just wanted to be "another runner" doing her best to finish the race.

We each approach races with unique challenges and specific goals. On this particular race day I acknowledge that I couldn't do it alone so I asked my Dr. and my friends and my loved ones to help me reach my goal and I had the perfect race day!!! I couldn't ask for a better life than that!

Keep Living STRONG!!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Pictures Worth a Thousand Words

Some pictures from the weekend with a photo credit to Jim. This does not in any way replace a race report but I am hoping it will content you until I am done writing it...Enjoy!

On my wrist on race day, a reminder to "Live STRONG" and a quote from my friend and fellow triathlete, Linae.

Nancy, Holly and Keri around Mile 13.5.

Holly and Nancy looking strong just past the 1/2 Marathon point.

The thumbs say it all ... Mile 19.5 just around the corner to the 14th Street Bridge.

Holly less than 200 feet from the finish line, SMILING all the way!!

26.2 Miles COMPLETE! Keri, Holly and Jim!

For the record: My face in the last picture is covered in sunscreen and salt, I wasn't going for any "Ghost" finish and I am not normally that pale but now I understand why the "Subway" sandwich guy asked me if I wanted food 3 times at Mile 24!!