10K and the 16-pound backpack

The story of my treatment wouldn’t be complete without the story of the 10K race and the 16-pound backpack, not simultaneous events, but each took place on the same day.

My daughter and I started running races together last fall when we ran a half-marathon together, the first half-marathon for her and her husband and the first time I had revisited that distance in about 36 years.  Ask any mom the joy in sharing experiences with one of your children. There aren’t many who are able to share such an activity with their daughters, so when she brings up a race she wants to run, I jump at the chance to join her.

Despite melanoma treatments, I have continued to run, only missing about a week after my surgery. My pace isn’t always fast, but I go the distance (if you get the Hercules inference). When my daughter, Steph, who is pregnant, brought up a local 10K race she joked about making a shirt that said “I may be pregnant and slow, but I’ll finish this race.” In that case, I added, I wanted a shirt that gave the reason for my turtle’s pace. I threw the challenge to our graphic designer at work who created two shirt logos, which we ironed on the backs of our shirts for the race, mine saying, “I may be slow, but I won’t let melanoma keep me from finishing this race.”

Donning our shirts, we warmed up and took off at an easy pace in the Summit Fest 10K race. Although it started heating up toward the end, it was a nice course and a good race. We both finished with decent times, both second in our age groups (not as impressive sounding when you know there were only four or five in each age group), and we had fun. It was a moment I wouldn’t trade for anything.

So what’s the big deal you’re asking? That’s not much of a story so far.

This was a week after my most recent treatment. Up until then, I had only done training runs, which can be slower than turtle pace, so I didn’t know what to expect. I also didn’t know when I signed up for the race that I would be working most of the afternoon after the race.

As a photojournalist, I carry all my camera gear with me when on assignment, which totals to around 16 pounds of gear. I use a backpack to spread out the weight as much as possible, but still, after three events and nearly three hours in the sun with my gear on my back, I could feel the day begin to take its toll. Waiting for one more activity to take place at my last assignment, I straightened my back – since I hate slouching, even if its caused by camera gear – and felt a quick, sharp twinge of pain in my low right abdomen, right about where the pocket of jeans would end. That was odd, I thought, and stretched it a little and carried on, finishing my task and heading home.

Along with being dreadfully tired from the day’s activities, pain started setting into that pocket area. Attributing it to a strain from the race, although in an odd place since I’ve pulled many muscles while running over the years, I gently stretched the area. However, the pain grew worse and ice during the evening didn’t seem to help.

The next day it continued getting worse until any change in position caused pain. But then nausea started and later a feverish feeling. Now I was confused and consulted the protocol for my treatment, monitoring the fever and getting through the night. Since I was due for surgical removal of a small (thankfully benign) lump in my arm, the surgeon examined the sore area, nearly sent me flying off the table, and decided we needed at CT scan to rule out hernia and appendicitis.

I didn’t get the results of the scan that day and decided to try a gentle run the next morning to see how it felt. While modifying my warm-up to compensate for the still tender area, the run itself was remarkably normal. That’s when I started going back over the day’s events in my mind trying to figure out what on earth I did. That’s when I remembered that quick twinge of pain, since at the time I didn’t give it any importance.

The scan came back showing inflammation but nothing else. The surgeon determined I might have torn a muscle, perhaps tearing if off the bone. Well, dang, no wonder it hurt as much as it did.

In the meantime, I had been communicating with the oncology and research nurse. They told me people undergoing Yervoy treatment do seem to experience an increase in muscle pain.

“The treatment is stressing your body. You need to listen to what your body is telling you,” the research nurse told me.

I thought I was listening, but now I’m trying to tune in even closer, cuz frankly, that hurt like hell. More fully realizing the burden and stress the treatment is placing on my muscles, I approach exercise and work a little differently, a little more gently and slowly now. And they want me to promise no more 10K races, which I can do, but there is this half marathon this fall… when treatments are more spread out…

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2 responses to “10K and the 16-pound backpack

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