Franken-Scar

Note – If you are sensitive to stitches/scar/medical type pictures you may not want to read this blog as I have 2 pictures listed below.  They are post outpatient surgery so there is no blood.  I have included them for my own future reference if I have to undergo a similar procedure again I can refer back to this blog entry.

On Monday I had two excisions done, one on my left bicep and one in the middle of my upper back.  It wasn’t my first experience with this procedure as I had two done on my right arm a few years ago.  The reason?  Melanoma.

The two moles excised on my arm were a very low level melanoma, barely measurable.  Due to this though, when I had two moles removed by the dermatologist in May and they came back as “abnormal cells” (in my bicep) and “possible melanoma in situ” (in my back) I was referred to plastic surgery to have the areas excised.  That’s just a fancy way of saying they cut out the full mole in the deeper layers of the skin as well as cells surrounding the area to ensure if there is any melanoma that it hasn’t spread to other cells.

I had the option to be sedated, but I chose not to as I wasn’t the first time and figured I would be fine with the topical anesthetic.  The surgeon excised my arm first and while I didn’t watch him, I looked at it once it was stitched up (internal ones that dissolve this time which was nice) and wasn’t too bothered by it.  Lying on my stomach on a laid back chair not really designed to be an operating table was the most challenging part.  I suggested that a face cradle like those on massage tables would be beneficial as keeping my head to the side became uncomfortable.  The doctor lowered the headrest and I ended up resting my chin on the end of the chair back with my forehead on the headrest.  Not ideal, but tolerable enough that I wouldn’t move during the procedure.

I was very relaxed, or as relaxed as one really could be given the circumstances, but at one point emotion swept over me.  I fought off mental images of the doctor cutting into my back and tried to think about beaches, lakes and other nature images instead.  I began to think about the scars I would have.  Ironically I had just finished reading Frankenstein a few weeks ago.  This was a shallow thought as I knew my health was more important than appearances, but the fear that I might have to continue to go through this process every few years, having various moles excised to leave scars behind, depressed me.  I reminded myself that my sister would be enduring much worse in a few months when she experienced labor and delivery for the first time.

When I was finally allowed to roll over and the chair was transitioned to its upright position once more, I felt very lightheaded.  I rubbed the side of my head and mentioned this and the nurse offered to get me water.  I then began to slightly cry for no apparent reason.  It scared me a bit and I asked the doctor if that was normal as it didn’t happen after my other excisions.  He handed me a tissue and said he had seen it happen and that I went through a lot having two done instead of one.  The nurse then got me some goldfish crackers and they let me recover in the room alone for a few minutes.  The snack helped me get my bearings back and I quickly dressed and found the colored gauze the nurse left me to cover my arm if I wished.  Looking at its swollen and bruised ugliness I decided yes, I needed it covered and immediately wrapped it.

I scheduled my wound check follow up visit and headed home to promptly take a Tylenol and lay down on the couch.  It never fails to amaze me how exhausting even mild outpatient surgery can be physically on the body.  I recounted my visit to Jason when he got home from work and that night before bed I finally looked at the surgical area on my back.  It was a lot longer than I expected and I joked how wonderful that scar would look at the beach this year.

In the days following the excisions I began to feel better, physically and emotionally.  I was reminded of many others who have large scars – my brother in law from back surgery, my first boyfriend from scoliosis surgery and my mom from her Cesarean delivery of my sister.  My mom showed me pictures of a coworker who had major melanoma removed from her neck and the incisions on either side of it.  It really hit home how much better it is to be scarred than have your health at risk.  As my sister bluntly put it later in the week, “Better than being dead”.

The doctor called on Thursday to say that pathology confirmed there was no melanoma found in either location which was welcome news.  In some ways it’s hard not to think that I was scarred “for nothing”, but health is something that you can’t take chances with.  If the whole process reminded me of anything it’s that you need to be grateful for your health and everything that your body can do.  It is also my public service announcement to anyone who reads this that annual skin checks are important and if anything on your skin ever looks awry to see a doctor.  Melanoma is very treatable when caught early.

Do you have surgical scars?  Have you ever had an emotional reaction following any type of surgery?

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Weekly Randomness

Time for another blog of total randomness encompassing my week:

Ma and Pa Heritage Village/Railroad Visit – Last Sunday my dad and I spent the afternoon visiting the Ma and Pa Heritage Village and Railroad.  He originally wanted to ride a train in Strausburg but I found this historic village which not only offered a train ride, but various buildings to explore.  They host special events as well.  Sunday was Early American Autos which was a great time to visit for my car-loving dad.  I treated him as an early birthday gift, and we spent the afternoon exploring, learning about the village during the early 1900s and enjoying a very nice 45 minute train ride for only $7 each.

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Halfway to being Aunt Tracy – I don’t believe I actually posted it when I was told the news, but my sister is expecting her first child in November, 5 days before my 33rd birthday.  She had her 20 week ultrasound on Monday and “Baby Z” is growing well.  Kasey and her husband stuck to their guns in choosing not to find out the gender until the baby is born.  After seeing the ultrasound picture I’m guessing it’s a boy.

Physical Therapy Completed – Wednesday I had my final physical therapy visit.  The assistant put me through a series of strength movements and while my left hamstring is still a tad weaker than the right, I had made enough progress to be released.  I no longer feel any twinges when I run or workout and very rarely feel any while sitting for long periods of time.

Trivia Night – Wednesday night Jason and I joined my parents, running buddies Todd and Armand and their wives, and surprise visitors Kyle and Chelsi (Todd’s son who I graduated high school with and daughter-in-law) at John Wright restaurant for pizza and trivia on the patio.  Our team started off strong, but as the rounds progressed we got fewer answers correct.  We ended up 7th overall.

July 4th – The holiday was very low key in my house.  Jason and I completed a flexibility workout, ran an errand then spent the afternoon eating homemade popcorn and watching Independence Day.  We also began the new season of Stranger Things.

Daily Studying – Every day I’m completing something related to earning my NASM personal trainer certification.  I took my third quiz yesterday and will be starting the 4th module’s readings today.  It is a lot of information to process, but I’m enjoying learning.  My biggest challenge is learning the various muscles by scientific name (ex the main calf muscle is the soleus) as I never took anatomy in high school or college.

Rained out Bonfire – My parents intended to host a July 4th bonfire last night for a few friends.  Unfortunately, not long after most guests arrived the pop up storms rolled into the area and chased us into the garage for the evening.  We had hoped it’d clear out, but instead of being the usual 10-15 min storms we’ve had, it persisted all evening.  Fortunately there was good food and good company to enjoy.

8 mile week – I met dad and Armand Sunday morning and completed 4 miles from John Wright up along the river and back.  Yesterday morning I completed 4 miles to the high school track and back, this time a bit faster thanks to decreased humidity.  I plan to run with my usual group on Wed. and bump up to a 5 mile run.

Have you ever visited a historical village/road a train?  Have you ever attended a trivia night?  Did you do anything to celebrate the 4th of July?

 

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2019 – 2nd Quarter Fitness Summary

As June progressed I began looking forward to writing this post to see how track season and my hamstring injury and rehab would affect my stats compared to the first quarter of 2019.

April was the busiest month of track season with typically two competitions per week.  It severely limited my time to train.  Despite that I still raced the Cancer Crushin 5k.  I took off 8 days from working out and had 8 days of running totaling 33.35 miles.

In May I ran the Turkey Hill Country Classic 10k and that’s when I knew I had to take time off from running or I would end up with a serious hamstring issue.  Those two weeks were torturous at times as I felt no other workout besides running offered the endorphin high I so desperately sought.  I was limited to upper body, core and rehab based workouts.  After visiting a sports medicine doctor I was given a walk-run plan which help me to refocus my frame of mind.  I took off 5 days from working out and had 10 days of running/walking totaling 25.67 miles.

In June I began to run more and walk less in my plan.  I also started to develop more strength in my weakened hips and glutes thanks to physical therapy.  I took 4 days off from working out and had 12 days of running/walking totaling 33.34 miles.

It shouldn’t be surprising to see such a drop in mileage factoring in the injury and rehab.  I am impressed to see such a limited number of days off though which shows I have been dedicated to maintaining fitness in other ways while I’ve healed.  I certainly hope the upcoming months will have more miles logged, but I’m not rushing back into training at this point.  This morning I ran 4 miles with my dad, the longest run I’ve completed since the 10k.  I’m ready to build back up to consistent 5-6 mile runs, but have no other goals set and no races lined up.  I’m just focusing on enjoying summer, working towards my personal trainer certification, and enjoying my runs.

What is the longest period of time you’ve ever had off from running?  Besides running, what other plans or goals do you have for the summer?

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95% Cleared

I had a physical therapy appointment on Thursday with the physical therapist who completed my initial evaluation.  I was excited to share with him my progress in rehabing my hamstring.

On Tuesday I completed a DailyBurn workout that involved upper body circuits followed by cardio circuits.  I didn’t modify any of the moves which meant I completed the actual jumps and quick movements.  While I didn’t go super intense, I did the workout in its entirety and didn’t notice anything in my hamstring.  I also had no dull aching while sitting later that night.  On Wednesday I completed another day of my walk-run plan, this time walking 5 minutes, running 20 minutes and walking 5 minutes.  The only thing I felt in my hamstring area was a bit of muscle soreness, but no actual pain/discomfort, rather an “I’m being worked” feeling.  Again I felt fine sitting that evening as well.

I told the physical therapist I felt 95% back to normal.  He asked me what was holding me back with the other 5%.  I said I wasn’t sure if I could go full force – jump or sprint without hesitation just yet.  He said that was normal in having the fear of re-injury and that the only way to be sure was to just test the hamstring.

He put me through a strength evaluation, stretching my legs in different positions and testing my resistance.  My legs seemed to perform equally.  Instead of having me do the glute/hip strengthening exercises that I had worked at past sessions, he had me work with a kettlebell and complete box jumps.  I’ve used a lot of exercise equipment in my life, but have never actually used a kettlebell.  He said that was to my benefit as most people use them incorrectly.  He had me start by swinging it through my legs with a towel through the handle for me to hold onto then progressed to just swinging it without the towel.  I had to really focus on driving forward fully and “popping” my hips at the top.  I think it was as mental of a workout as it was a physical one.

We then moved onto a series of jumps including squat jumps on and off a box.  My coordination was tested more than once with the exaggerated arm swings and I jokingly told him that despite being a hurdler in track, I really had no coordination.  There was no pain in my hamstring throughout any of the exercises.

I had hoped I would be cleared to stop going to physical therapy weekly (copays do add up!) at the end of the session, but he asked that I come back for one more.  He did allow me to cancel one appointment so that I would go at least two weeks before returning to allow me more time to work at home on power moves like dumbbell swings.

We also discussed my running as I’m wrapping up the final week of the walk-run plan.  We agreed that I should try to work on adding more time onto the runs vs going back to my usual training by miles.  It has been fun being limited to 30 mins and seeing how far of a distance I can log in that set amount of time, so I’m fine with trying this plan for now.  I have always been a mileage based runner over a time based, so it might be good for me to try something new.

I will finish my last day of the plan with a 30 minute run, no walking.  I plan to meet my running group on Wed. for their usual run and complete that final workout.  I know I won’t keep up with them pace-wise, and I certainly won’t cover the amount of miles they will (normally 5-6), but it’ll be good to see them again and run somewhere other than my neighborhood.

I really don’t have any plans to train for anything at this point and I’m ok with that.  I’d rather focus on building my total body strength and adding miles as they come.  It’ll be the first time I haven’t specifically trained for anything in nearly two years.  I’m treating it as a welcome break for me both mentally and physically in the hopes that when I’m ready to fully train again I’ll come back even stronger.

Do you train by miles or time or a combo of the two?  Have you ever changed training styles?

 

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Back to School

Back to school, back to school, to prove to dad that I’m not a fool…

Despite watching Billy Madison multiple times throughout my life I will always end up crying from laughing at certain scenes.  From the drunk penguin to peeing his pants, that movie is hilarious.  My favorite scene is when he is in the bathtub making the shampoo and conditioner argue and ends with “Stop looking at me swan!”

Like Billy I am officially “back to school” starting this Tuesday.  I had contacted NASM about their personal training certification prior to the start of track season.  I asked some questions and told the gentleman I would follow up once the season ended.  Waiting turned out to be a blessing in disguise.  When I contacted the gentleman again about registering for their personal trainer course and adding on the group trainer certification, it was actually during their biggest sale of the year which meant I could add on the group trainer certification for free!  I originally thought my entire coaching paycheck would be going to paying for the courses, but because of this discount I was able to only use part of it and use the other part to help payoff our scheduled trip to New Orleans this fall.

I chose their guided study package which provided a physical textbook in addition to the online version (I much prefer physical books to online ones) as well as access to a mentor and online discussion groups among other features.  I felt having access to someone to ask questions throughout the course would be very beneficial and worth the additional cost.  That package also includes one free retest in the event I wouldn’t pass the certification exam the first time.

I’ve already read through all the initial information and began the first module.  I want to try to get ahead as it appears two chapters are part of each module, and one module a week is covered for 10 weeks.  Week 5 contains an exam and week 10 has a practice certification exam.

I have taken a few Coursera classes for fun over the years, but this will be first legit studying and learning I have done since graduating college in 2009.  I have always been a good student (graduated as salutatorian of my high school class) and a great test taker, but I really want to focus on understanding the concepts rather than just memorizing definitions.  That will be a bit of a challenge as I’m naturally inclined to memorize things as my style of learning.  It is why I struggled with classes like physics where I could complete problems by memorizing formulas, but did awful at word problems that required fully understanding the concept.  I’m hoping I can train my brain to learn this a bit differently than how I’ve learned things in the past.

I’m excited to be studying something that I am passionate about in anticipation of where it may guide me in the future.  I have no intentions of leaving my current job anytime soon (working from home is hard to pass up, plus I like what I do), but I want to expand my options even if it is just some part time work on the side for fun and extra money.  I think it will also benefit me as an athlete and a coach.  Here’s to a new educational adventure!

Have you ever taken online courses for fun or for career change/advancement?  Do you have any tips for learning concepts vs just memorizing information?

 

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Run, Walk, Repeat

On Thursday I finished week 2 of the walk/run program prescribed to me by my sports medicine doctor to help rehab my hamstring injury.  I am at the point where more of the 30 minutes is spent running than walking hence run, walk, repeat instead of walk, run repeat.

I actually botched the final workout because I worked in the office on Thursday and forgot to look at the plan before I left the house.  I knew it consisted of 8 mins of running.  The initial walking period had been decreasing as well.  Based on those two things, I logically concluded that the workout must be 2 mins of walking, 8 mins of running with 1 min of walking for a total of 26 minutes and 2 mins of walking.  That is the workout I completed on the rail trail.  I returned home to discover that the workout was actually 5 mins of walking, 8 mins of running with 3 mins of walking for a total of 22 mins and 3 mins of walking.  Oops.

Fortunately my hamstring did well enough during the running portions.  I felt it during the first one and it eased up the longer I continued.  That seems to be the pattern lately.  It’s never actual pain, but rather just a reminder of “Hey, I’m still healing so don’t press your luck.”

Friday I had my second physical therapy session following the initial evaluation.  I started out with a 5 min warmup on the bike.  The rest of the 30 min session consisted of hamstring stretches, glute work on a stability ball, resistance band work and balance work.  While nothing hurt beyond a usual workout, my hips definitely fatigued easily.  That’s probably why it was noted in my visit summary “Patient demonstrated some core weakness throughout her hips and buttocks.  Reported and visible fatigue were noted during treatment.”

The ironic part in this rehab journey is that in anticipation of summer training, I had planned to do more balance/stability and glute work once track season was completed.  I knew I had muscular imbalances and needed to work on strengthening those areas.  Apparently my hamstring’s patience was exhausted waiting for me to start!  I’m just glad I didn’t do any worse damage to it, and that I’m starting to build some strength in those weaker areas.  The challenge will be once I’m cleared to fully run with no limits to make sure I keep consistent in maintaining strength in those weaker areas.

Do you have areas of physical weakness that you need to strengthen to be a better/stronger runner?  How do you incorporate “weakness work” into your workout schedule?

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Play is a Universal Language

The Saturday of Memorial Day weekend Jason and I met with Susan from church to travel to Lancaster to visit the Congolese refugee family* we were partnered with through Church World Service.  It was my second visit and Jason’s first.  After having a so-so first experience, more so because of being indirectly forced to drive there in the rain, I was hopeful that the second visit would be more enjoyable since the weather was great.

Earlier in the week I had texted the father to ask him if the family would be home for us to visit, and he said we were welcome.  Texting was a relief to my communication anxiety as originally I thought I would have to call and hope he would understand my English well enough to know what I was asking.  I’m not sure if he had any type of translation device on his phone, or used a Swahili to English dictionary, but I was glad we established the visit without any issues.

I had intended to go to Five Below to buy a soccer ball to take, but due to spending the morning at the car dealership buying Jason’s used Toyota Rav4, I didn’t have time.  Fortunately Susan took a route that enabled us to get off the highway and stop there before continuing to Lancaster.  I ended up buying both a soccer ball and a jump rope after remembering the CWS volunteer coordinator say that the girls liked to jump rope.

Upon entering the home we gave the father dominoes that Susan had bought, and I gave the children the soccer ball and jump rope.  The oldest boy took both gifts, particularly excited over receiving the soccer ball.  It became evident through our visit that while a daughter was the oldest child, the son was the leader of the children.  We mentioned to the parents about going to the park, using hand gestures to point in the direction we wanted to go, and shortly set out and around the block.  Susan had asked the father if they were coming and he said yes, but we don’t think he actually understood the question as only the five children joined us while the parents stayed home with the baby.

Three of the girls quickly began using the jump rope while Jason and I began kicking the soccer ball back and forth with the son.  His skills were much more advanced than either of ours even with wearing sandals.  Susan pushed the youngest daughter on a swing.  I eventually left Jason to keep kicking the soccer ball to help swing the jump rope.  Not being allowed to jump due to my hamstring injury was a good excuse to not embarrass myself in front of girls who clearly were masters at it.  They sang jump rope rhymes in Swahili and I would’ve loved to have known what they were saying to compare it to the old rhymes I sang in elementary school while jumping rope.

The children hadn’t seem to take an interest in the playground equipment, and I realized that they may not have ever encountered anything like it.  I guided the youngest child over and showed her how to go down the smallest slide.  She followed then proceeded to repeat the activity.  One of the other girls soon joined, and then I showed them the larger slide.  The youngest one was afraid, so I held her hand and guided her down the slide.  Jason, Susan and the other children soon joined us in exploring the equipment.  As the afternoon grew hotter one of the girls walked home to bring back a gallon of water and a cup.  I was uncertain if I should follow her, not knowing the area, but as other children were coming and going from the park I figured it was safe.

Jason, Susan and I sought out spots in the shade and it was very apparent the kids weren’t as bothered by the direct heat as we were.  Susan began a hand game with one of the children by clapping her hands on her legs, then clapping her hands together then clapping her hands against the girls’ hands.  The girl quickly caught onto the pattern.  I began to do the same with the youngest child.  I tried to recall various hand slapping rhymes I sang as a kid but couldn’t think of any.

After about an hour and a half at the playground we decided that was enough sun for the day, plus Susan had an event that evening to get to.  We walked the children home and their father encouraged us to come inside, but we implied we had to leave.  We gave the kids high fives and everyone stood outside waving until we had turned off their block.

I am so glad I didn’t let my fears of communicating keep me from visiting the family a second time.  Few words were spoken while playing with the children, but words weren’t needed to teach new things or share in the fun together.  Jason, who is not a kid person by any means, said that he had a great time and that he probably had more fun with those kids than any other kids in his life.  They were very well behaved and shared things with each other.  We could tell by the tone of the brother’s voice at times that he was giving the sisters orders, but none of them ever fought.  I was reminded how in a world of consumerism, with so many kids wanting the newest toys, that something as simple as a soccer ball and jump rope can keep some kids occupied for hours.  I am grateful for this cultural and growth experience and hope that we are bringing as much joy to this family’s life as they are to ours.

*Names have been kept out of the writing to ensure the family’s privacy.

 

 

 

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