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Denise Neish

AF Canyon Half Marathon

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AF Canyon Half Marathon 6/21/14

AF Canyon Half Marathon 6/21/14

Last Saturday I ran the AF Canyon Half Marathon. I have been preparing for it for a few months, but it was hard this year, because I had to train carefully. After last year’s race, I discovered that I had 3 stress fractures in my legs (presumably due to running while taking Zometa, a bone strengthening drug which, ironically, can make bones more susceptible to fractures). I have only been able to run about twice a week, or else the pain in my femurs is too much, and I fear a stress fracture.

I have definitely not been running as much as last year for this race, but strangely, I continue to feel stronger the farther away I get from all my treatment. It seems odd to still be recovering, because I have been in remission for two years, but I’m certain that’s why I feel better than I have in a long long time.

My pre-race sleeping and eating routine was well planned. I woke up at 3:55AM to make it to the bus pick-up at 4:30. I arrived at the top of the canyon by about 5AM; one hour before start time.

The AF Canyon Half Marathon is put on to raise money for cancer patients who can’t afford treatment. I love that all the money goes to that cause. This has been a special race for me because it was the race I trained for during my treatment. I ran it right after I found out I was in remission. It was a difficult challenge to finish such a long race during that time, but it was mentally and physically great for me to have this goal. My radiation nurses were the ones who referred the race marketing guy to me, and he asked me to speak at the top of the canyon before the race started two years ago. They also made a little video about me for the race website.

So many people run in honor of, or in memory of, someone they love who has battled cancer. Many cancer survivors also run this race. The speaker at the top of the mountain this time happened to be the first doctor who did surgery on me. She said that she was running in honor of her patients. I haven’t seen or spoken with her since the very beginning of my battle with cancer, and I made my way over to her right before the gun went off.

I said, “You have done surgery on me, . . . twice.” She said that I looked familiar, and I told her my name. I said that I wanted her to tell her patients with stage 4 breast cancer that there are some who survive. I told her that I had cancer in my spine and pelvis, and that I had now been in full remission for two years. She had tears in her eyes and thanked me for speaking with her. She said that she may have some of her patients call me if that was okay. I said, “Of course!”

The race was beautiful, as always. The air was crisp and cool as we followed the river seven miles to the mouth of the canyon. People wore shirts with pictures of their loved ones with cancer, and there were signs placed alongside the road with messages of hope for specific cancer patients. I stopped at the second water station at mile five, and continued to where I knew Branden would be waiting for me.

At 7.5 miles we exited the canyon, and there were several people there cheering on the runners. Branden met me there and joined me for the rest of the race. I discovered that I was making better time than I thought I would. My original goal was just to be in the 1:50s, but I soon realized I had a chance to break my time from last year, and that became my new goal. I felt strong through mile 10, then I was just trying to keep moving for the last 3.1 miles.

Branden encouraged me a few times, and I was glad to have him with me, but I was so tired that it took all my focus to just put one foot in front of the other. I was still trying to break my time, but I was getting grumpy about it! Near the finish Branden stopped since he wasn’t really in the race, and I looked up at the clock. I was going to beat my previous best time by over a minute! I pushed myself to finish strong, and made it through the crowd of people to reunite with Branden. I was all smiles after I stopped running.

I love this race, and it made me really happy to break my time from last year. I am just so happy I can run, and thankful to be getting healthier and stronger all the time. I have so much to be grateful for!

Breast Cancer ‘Early Detection’ Message Insufficient

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My Op-ed was published in the Deseret News on May 29, 2014. Click on this link to read it, or just read it below!

http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865604071/Breast-cancer-early-detection-message-insufficient.html?pg=all

After Amy Robach, co-host of Good Morning America, shared her breast cancer battle with the world, she resolved, “I will start on a new journey, helping raise awareness about early detection.”

Amy, I’m glad you’re better, and it’s a nice thought, but unfortunately, it’s the same insufficient message about breast cancer that gets repeated over and over again.

When I was diagnosed with “incurable” (metastatic) breast cancer at age 37, I cringed every time someone told me I would make a great spokesperson for this oft-repeated public health message, “early detection saves lives”.
True? Yes, but it’s a slap in the face to someone trying to maintain any shred of hope after a late-stage breast cancer diagnosis. It’s like shouting to a person who tripped, “Watch your step!” Well, it’s too late for that advice. Extending your hand to help seems more appropriate.

After a year aggressively battling my “incurable” cancer, as my doctors called it, I have enjoyed two years of remission with no evidence of disease. My husband and four young children are grateful I didn’t give up hope, even though I did not detect my cancer early.

I still see the billboards – the ones that stabbed like a dagger through my desperate heart when I was first diagnosed. “Early detection saves lives!” Great idea, but for women who are younger, or have no family history of breast cancer, it’s unlikely they will be diagnosed early. Seeing that message everywhere doesn’t do them any good.
Other common public messages, regarding breast cancer, seem to be somewhat of a joke. I’ve seen catchy phrases like, “Help save the tatas!” Or “Save the boobs!” Because having a mastectomy is the worst thing that can happen when you have breast cancer…right?

Wrong. The worst outcome is that you can die from it! I won’t minimize the trauma for women who have a mastectomy, if everyone will stop minimizing a breast cancer diagnosis. It’s not just about boobs. You won’t die from breast cancer that stays in your breast, but if it spreads (which is what defines stage 4) then all of a sudden it’s considered incurable because the cancer has entered your blood stream and traveled elsewhere in your body – usually bones, brain, lungs, or liver. When that happens, the last thing you’re concerned with is whether or not you get to keep your “tatas.” At least the t-shirt with the message “Of course these are fake, my real ones tried to kill me” emblazoned across the chest is more accurate.

Don’t get me wrong, it is better to detect breast cancer early, but can we please start addressing those who did not catch it early, but who also want to live? These women are moms, wives, girlfriends, sisters, friends. Breast cancer is the number one cancer for women, and it’s no joke.

The current dialogue around breast cancer seems to be either that it’s hardly serious enough to be called cancer, or that those diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer are beyond hope. Neither is true.

My message for researchers is, “Spend more time trying to find a cure for metastatic breast cancer – the kind that can kill you.

To doctors, I say, “Don’t take hope away from any patient who wants to fight. Aggressive treatment has resulted in a cure for some metastatic breast cancer patients, but we want more.”

To everyone, I say, “If you are diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer, don’t accept a death sentence. There are survivors of metastatic breast cancer. That’s a fact. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”

 

http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865604071/Breast-cancer-early-detection-message-insufficient.html?pg=all

May 2014 PET scan results

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Thank you to everyone who prayed for me to have a clear PET scan. I got the results today, and it all looks good for the most part. But I do wish these things would be more conclusive. There does not appear to be cancer anywhere, but there is one little spot that is questionable. It is in the sacro-iliac bone in my lower back. I have to go back for another scan in two months to follow up on it.

To be honest, I am almost certain it is okay. I know that it is possible for the scans to show stress in the bones, and I did a hard run outside on Saturday (2 days before my scan), so my guess is that is why there appears to be some action going on in that area. I’m not just saying this, . . . I really do think it is nothing.

We have dealt with a questionable PET scan before, and everything turned out fine. It just means that I will have to wait until July to be 100% confident that my body is as healthy as it feels.

Until then, I’m pleased to announce that I have now been in remission for 2 years, and I will assume that is going to continue until I hear otherwise. All is well!!! Love you guys!!!

3 Years!

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So I guess it’s my “cancerversary” today. It was 3 years ago today that I was first diagnosed with breast cancer (3 weeks after that we discovered it was stage 4). It seems like a strange thing to celebrate, but really, I am just feeling contemplative today. Grateful to still be here, and incredibly grateful to be in remission. I celebrated by running 6 miles on my treadmill today.

Next month seems like more of a legitimate reason to celebrate because (assuming my PET scan in May goes well) I will celebrate two years of remission.

But a “cancerversary” might be a good excuse to get a chocolate cake or something? Plus there’s the fact that it’s Spring Break!!

Read at my Grandma Howard’s funeral- Her own words

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I don’t mind saying that I had two amazingly wonderful grandmothers!  My Grandma Howard (Doris Jean Howard) was a spirited, yet always proper, country girl!  She lived in Missouri her whole life and was raised by her loving grandparents after suffering abuse as a young girl from her step-father.  She married my grandpa at the age of 17 because he was going off to war.  My grandparents were the happiest couple I have ever known.  They were poor, but made such a happy life for themselves.  They were fun and wonderful parents, and grandparents, and were loved by everyone in their little community.  She was a seamstress her whole life, working from home, while my grandpa had his own garage across the street from where they lived, where he fixed cars.

My grandparents loved being together.  They talked forever on their front porch, or over coffee in the morning, before my grandma scuttled him out the door for work, where she came and visited him frequently.  They fished, played cards, went on road trips, entered photography contests together, and she always kept a journal.  I came across this today and wanted to share it.  I have always loved this particular journal entry of hers.  At the age of 75 she wrote it, and we read it at her funeral four years later:

March 2002

I haven’t written for a long time.  I have now lived three quarters of a century.  That doesn’t make me so very old but I realize there are things I would have liked to do that are now closed to me.

Read More

Some Thoughts on Overcoming Fear

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My brother-in-law was diagnosed with cancer right before Christmas, and is now in the thick of the battle.  His prognosis is good, but it’s going to be a rough few months ahead.  Of course, this has caused me to think back to when I was first diagnosed with cancer, and I have always said that it was harder emotionally than physically.  I still believe that to be true.  Whether it’s cancer, or some other challenge, fear is often a part of the equation that can compound our problems.  But when we can overcome our fears, we are free.  Today I put down a few of my thoughts on overcoming fear:

Overcoming Fear

When I was a young girl I dreaded report card time or parent/teacher conferences, because I knew I would get a huge lecture and punishment from my parents who expected my best efforts.  The conclusion my father came to was that I was being lazy.  I knew that laziness wasn’t the real reason for my lackluster grades, but, honestly, I could not figure out why I wasn’t simply putting forth a little more effort to produce better grades.  I knew I could do better.  As I got older my grades gradually went up, and finally in college, when no one saw my grades but myself, I proved to be a good student.

After years of reflection, I sought deeply to understand myself better, and I contemplated the feelings I had as a young girl.  I wanted to determine why I was so unwilling to put my full effort into school.  Finally, I realized that it was fear.  I had always wanted to believe that I could get As in any subject if I tried hard enough, but, I told myself that I was only willing to put forth minimal effort, and that was why I was under-performing.  That theory brought me some measure of comfort.

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Amazing article on Running and preventing breast cancer recurrence

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I came across this article today posted by a breast cancer survivor on another website.  Naturally it caught my eye!  This study shows that regular running can help prevent breast cancer recurrence by about 25%!  I think that is pretty amazing!! Here are a couple of quotes from the article:

“Previous studies have shown that breast cancer survivors who meet the current exercise recommendations (2.5 hours of moderate intensity physical activity per week) are at 25% lower risk for dying from breast cancer. New research from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and reported in the International Journal of Cancer suggests that exceeding the recommendations may provide greater protection, and that running may be better than walking.”

“If I were a breast cancer survivor, I would certainly consider running or some other vigorous exercise over walking, and I wouldn’t just be doing the minimum, with the consequences and potential benefit being so great,”

Click on the link below to read the full article and read the statistics.  I have always personally felt that it is more important now for me to run than ever before, and that running is a key to maintaining good health going forward.  This study totally validates that notion.  There are also psychological benefits to running when you are going through a difficult challenge of any kind.  So get those running shoes out and lace up!!

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140129115205.htm

Look for the Future!

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My church makes these little videos (this one is 3 minutes long), and when I saw this one I sorta got chills.  I LOVED it and wanted to share this today.  Basic message:  Don’t look back, look forward!  It’s a message of hope and courage for anyone, no matter what you believe.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lrZij9MSTRI

I should watch this at the beginning of each day!!

 

Ooops!!

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Sorry to those of you who sent me messages over the past week or two using the “contact me” icon on my site.  I did not think I had received any messages at all yet, then I just checked my junk mail and found some.  I’m so glad that my site has reached a few people, and I feel so bad that I haven’t responded back to some very kind messages, and even a few who have shared their story with me.  I am grateful for your messages, and I will get back to you all as soon as possible (this weekend for sure!)

I think my email account just didn’t recognize these first messages that were sent through my site, and so now that I have marked them as ‘not junk’, hopefully that won’t happen in the future.  I will be checking my junk mail just in case!! Sorry again, and thanks for the messages!!