April has been a great month for running! I seem to have successfully defeated the injury that plagued me in March and I’ve been able to see a measurable improvement from week to week which is really motivating. For the first time since I started cancer treatment I haven’t felt like I have just been hanging in there, but have been feeling great and able to really push myself. It’s a great circle to be in, because the more I push myself, the  more I improve, the more I improve, the more motivated I become, the motivation gives me more energy which allows me to push myself more and so on! All in all it is much more fun.

The focus this month has been on picking up my speed rather than running long distances – my runs haven’t been more than about 8km max, but I’ve been doing a lot of intervals and fartleg which I love. Particularly the intervals! And it works, as you will see in my progress table below. I’ve been running 4 times a week as well as hitting the gym 2-3 times a week for weight training and sessions on the cross trainer.

My biggest challenge has been the sun! Normally I love the sun and we’ve been having a surprisingly sunny April here this year. However I’m supposed to avoid sun on the areas where I had radiotherapy, which in my case is my entire upper body from chest to chin. It is a bit of a challenge running in the sun without getting sun on your neck and throat and I’m still trying to figure it out. So far I’m slathering on the factor 30 and wearing a buff round my neck but it isn’t ideal as the buff slides down and doesn’t really cover my neck/throat as high up as I really need. If anyone has any suggestions here, I’m very open to good ideas!

It’s now less than 5 months to Berlin Marathon, but I am starting to feel more optimistic that not only will I be able to complete the marathon, but it might be a half-way decent time. A new Personal Record still seems out of reach, but I haven’t entirely given up hope – particularly if I keep on improving the way I have been! Here is a summary if my progress to date:

Month #km Average pace min/km Comments
April 2010 132 5:07 Typical month pre-cancer treatment
October 2010 88 5:54 Last chemo on 18 Oct.
November 2010 100 5:46 First radiotherapy 15 Nov
December 2010 49 6:08 Last radiotherapy 8 Dec
January 2011 100 5:53  
February 2011 103 5:44  
March 2011 47 5:43 Injured!
April 2011 113 5:27 🙂

 It would also be really motivating for me if you felt like donating to my campaign to raise money for the Danish Cancer Society (Kræftens Bekæmpelse)! Just click here: http://uk.betternow.org/projects/kirstenejlskov

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I’ve decided to write this because it is something I was looking for before I started chemo and couldn’t find. I had to wing it, but I have definitely learned a few things about myself as a runner and I hope that it will be useful for others.

  • Most importantly check with your Doctor that it is OK for you to run. I got lots of support from mine.
  • If you aren’t already a regular runner I wouldn’t suggest starting up while you are having chemo. I would still recommend exercising – cycling or using the cross trainer (elliptical trainer) are good bets. I used both on days when I couldn’t run – somehow they shoogle your delicate insides and pound your fragile bones and joints less than running does. On really bad days I went for a walk. I was told not to swim because of the infection risk. Definitely put running on your to-do list for afterwards though!
  • Forget about following a training programme. I had an optimistic idea that I would still follow a programme, but dropped it already after the first week! Run whatever you feel like on the day. Some days I could only manage 3 km run/walk, other days I managed 10 km and sometimes I felt like doing some spontaneous fartleg, intervals or hill sprints.
  • Adjust your goals. Early on I decided that my goal was simply to get my running kit on and step outside the front door three times a week and anything more than that was a bonus. Of course, I never once got the kit on and went outside the front door without going for some sort of run and therefore always had a tremendous feeling of achievement!
  • Listen to your body – up to a point! Basically my body was telling me to lie in bed in the foetal position for 4 months until the chemo was over, so obviously you don’t want to listen to that! There were days where I could barely drag myself to the toilet and running was out of the question, but after the first chemo cycle I got a feeling for which days were impossible and which were not. Once you are out there in your shoes running your body will tell you what it feels like if you are tuned in to it (see third bullet above).
  • Time your runs. I had terrible problems with my appetite and eating, but discovered that for about an hour after I ran I could actually eat with some pleasure, so I usually ran just before dinner time which meant I could eat more (and enjoy it!).
  • Enlist a bully! I told my hubbie early on that it was important to me to keep on running and I needed him to help me. He was amazing. At all other times he was a fountain of unending sympathy, but when it came to running it was tough love all the way. Typical scenario:
    • Me: lying on the sofa in foetal position moaning and groaning.
    • Hubbie: I thought you were going for a run today.
    • Me: But I feel terrible, I can’t possibly get off the sofa.
    • Hubbie: (with sympathy) You know it will make you feel better.
    • Me: But I feel terrible, I can’t possibly get off the sofa. (repeat last two lines several times)
    • Hubbie: (now with menacing tone) Go and put your running kit on.
    • Me: (in whiny voice) You are so cruel! (repeat last two lines several times).
    • Finally, groaning loudly I would roll off the sofa and stagger off and get my kit on.
  • Choose a route that you can shorten down. Out-and-back routes are not recommended. Nothing worse than running 6 km from home and then starting to feel dreadful with no easy way back. I ran routes that looped round my house so that I could head straight back when I had had enough.
  • Take safety precautions. Tell someone where you are going and how long you expect to be, take a phone and/or carry ID. If you take unwell it’s important that someone will come and find you.
  • Don’t give up on racing if you don’t want to, but do adjust your ambitions! I ran a couple of races while I was having treatment but in both cases I was participating with friends so the social aspect was important and I had no expectations with regard to my finishing time. In one, which was on narrow trails, I even stopped and stepped to the side to let people pass me, so I didn’t have them breathing down my neck! It’s a good idea to find events that have multiple race distances so that you can choose to run the distance that you feel up to on the day.
  • Wash your running kit straight after you finish and jump straight in the shower. My chemo nurse, who is also a marathon runner, told me this. You sweat out the chemo for the first week or so, so best not to have it lying around.
  • If you are bald, make sure you don’t get your head sunburned! I LOVED the feeling of running with my bare head though. And I enjoyed the looks of passersby wondering why on earth I was bald (normally people assume it is because you have cancer, but for some reason they seem to rule that out if you are running!).
  • Most importantly of all, enjoy running. I had some of the best runs of my life during that period. Sometimes I just had to stop still and admire the view and got quite choked up at the beauty of it all and the wonderful feeling that I still had some control over my body.

If you have found this useful you may want to consider sponsoring me for my comeback run at Berlin Marathon? If so you can click here: http://uk.betternow.org/projects/kirstenejlskov

And here are links to my previous posts about running:

https://kirstenejlskov.wordpress.com/2010/06/14/keep-on-running/

https://kirstenejlskov.wordpress.com/2010/07/15/keep-on-running-2/

https://kirstenejlskov.wordpress.com/2010/09/25/running-the-marathon/

https://kirstenejlskov.wordpress.com/2010/11/30/one-week-to-go-and-yes-im-still-running/

https://kirstenejlskov.wordpress.com/2011/01/23/back-in-training/

https://kirstenejlskov.wordpress.com/2011/04/06/running-update/

The story of my hair

April 10, 2011

Interestingly my posts featuring hair (and lack thereof) are those that by far have had the most views. Not only that, but if I look at the search terms that have lead people to my blog, there are an awful lot of them that are hair related e.g. “bald women”, “chemo bald”, “bald women by choice”, “bald parents”, “wig shopping” and very many other similar terms. Not only that, but the amount of time I have spent discussing hair issues over the last 10 months is unbelievable! Even now when I meet people I haven’t seen for a while the first topic of discussion is usually my hair. I have also realised from talking to or reading blogs of others going through chemo that for most, the hair thing is a really big deal. But in retrospect, I’m not really sure that it has been for me.

In the past I have read numerous articles in women’s magazines about women who have lost their hair and thought that it must be truly awful. When I got my cancer diagnosis, one of the first things people asked me was whether I was going to lose my hair, but at that point it really didn’t seem like a big deal to me – or at least it was totally overshadowed as in issue by many other things that really did seem like a huge deal. Mostly I felt freaked out at the thought of having to wear a wig (which at that point I thought was compulsory) than at the thought of being bald. So it was a huge relief to me to realise that going bald was an option and when I did shave my head the honest truth is that I quite like the way I looked bald. It made feel brave and yes, attractive, while wearing the wig made me feel like an ugly loser (which is nothing to do with the wig itself which my husband couldn’t differentiate from my own hair).From then on I bore my bald pate with pride and I can quite honestly say I only got positive reactions to my choice (apart from my two teenage children who thought it was the most embarrassing thing ever!).

When my hair started growing again in came in surprisingly thick and fast and while there were a couple of weeks where people stared and wonder that I would choose a crew cut, it really didn’t take long before it looked like a hairstyle, although it has taken until now (almost 6 months after my last chemo) for it to be long enough to get trimmed into a real hairstyle. The thing is that I LOVE my short hair! If you had asked me a year ago I would have told you that I would never have short hair – it just didn’t suit me and I certainly would never have dared to have it cut as short as it is now! Now I think it is great! I adore the look and on top of that it is so easy to look after. So that is one positive thing that has come out of all this!

For me this has never been about the hair, but I do know that for many women it really is a big deal. I hope that in time the taboo of the bald woman disappears so that more women feel comfortable and attractive with baldness if they are unfortunate enough to have it forced upon them. And I hope that for those, like me, who don’t turn out to be wig types, that my story will at least give them the idea that going bald is an option.

And here is a summary of the posts about the hair:

https://kirstenejlskov.wordpress.com/2010/06/29/hair-today-gone-tomorrow/

https://kirstenejlskov.wordpress.com/2010/07/12/bad-hair-day/

https://kirstenejlskov.wordpress.com/2010/08/12/more-hairy-stories/

https://kirstenejlskov.wordpress.com/2010/08/18/as-promised/

https://kirstenejlskov.wordpress.com/2010/12/30/for-now/

Running update

April 6, 2011

March turned out to be a bit of flop in terms of running due to an injury I picked up at the end of February. It hasn’t been serious, but I have had to cut back the amount of running I was able to do.  Like all runners I have previously always freaked out faced by injury – you would have thought the world was ending! However, my new chilled personality has also paid off this month. It just really hasn’t seemed like such a big deal in the grand scheme of things, which has probably resulted in me getting over it quicker that I would have in the past. Rather than refusing to admit it was a problem, keeping going and making it worse (yes, I bet the runners reading this know what I’m talking about!) I immediately backed off.

Not that I have been lazy, mind you. I have compensated for lack of running with an increase on the cross-trainer machine at the gym (I think some people call it the elliptical trainer) and have just translated my running workouts into cross-trainer workouts with the use of my heart-rate monitor. The total number of km I covered when counting running + cross-trainer was actually more for March than it was for February, but with a much higher proportion on the cross-trainer. I’m now pretty much over the injury and gradually increasing the running km and decreasing the cross-trainer km again.

It’s still over 5 months until Berlin Marathon on 25 September, but it increasingly seems doable, albeit I have definitely dropped any ideas of a new personal best! I have never run my marathons for charity before, but this time it seems appropriate to use my experience to raise some money to give something back to the Danish Cancer Society “Kræftens Bekæmpelse”. I also have an idea that it could be a way to raise awareness about the benefits of exercise both during and after cancer treatment. I have already launched a campaign pagehttp://uk.betternow.org/projects/kirstenejlskov and all donations are extremely welcome. However I plan to increase my campaigning efforts as the momentum increases towards September so you are going to hear plenty more about this!

In the meantime an update on the status of my “comeback” so far:

Month # km Average pace min/km Comments
April 2010 132 5:07 Typical month pre-cancer treatment
October 2010 88 5:54 Last chemo on 18 Oct.
November 2010 100 5:46 First radiotherapy 15 Nov.
December 2010 49 6:08 Last radiotherapy 8 Dec.
January 2011 100 5:53  
February 2011 103 5:44  
March 2011 47 5:43 Injured!

And here is a summary of my blog entries relating to running through cancer and beyond:

https://kirstenejlskov.wordpress.com/2010/06/14/keep-on-running/

https://kirstenejlskov.wordpress.com/2010/07/15/keep-on-running-2/

https://kirstenejlskov.wordpress.com/2010/09/25/running-the-marathon/

https://kirstenejlskov.wordpress.com/2010/11/30/one-week-to-go-and-yes-im-still-running/

https://kirstenejlskov.wordpress.com/2011/01/23/back-in-training/

Happy Anniversary!

April 3, 2011

Friday was a double anniversary for me. It was one year ago, on 1 April 2010 that I took the huge step and became self-employed. I didn’t actually stop being employed for another 2 months having made an arrangement with my employer that I would reduce to half-time for two months before leaving completely, while working from home and on the condition that I also could start working on my own projects. This is an arrangement that I would definitely recommend to others starting out on their own, though it does depend on having a good, flexible and trusting employer, which I was very lucky to have.

Less happily, it was also on 1 April 2010 that I first discovered the lump in my armpit that later showed itself to be a symptom of my Hodgkins Lymphoma. I have no idea how long the lump had been there but it was fairly large by that stage. Hodgkins lumps are usually painless, but can be sensitive to alcohol. That weekend we were visiting my in-laws for the Easter holidays (yes, I can also recommend starting with a vacation when you start your own business!) and I had probably had a bit more red wine to drink than usual. I woke up in the night with a throbbing pain under my arm which is how I discovered the lump. I lay awake much of the night convinced it was cancer, and headed to the Doctor as soon as we got home again. This is fairly remarkable because I am generally the type who expects things to just get better and usually refuse to go the Doctor until I am forced. This time my intuition worked well for me, that’s for sure. It took another couple of months to get the diagnosis, but during that time I was quite convinced that it was cancer.

A lot of people have said to me that the timing was really, really unlucky. The thing is though, that there is never a good time to get cancer. Sure, economically it was rotten timing – if I had still been employed I would have been paid my salary throughout my sick leave – but we managed. You never know when you start your own business how long it will take before you start making money, so we had budgeted for me not earning much this first year. Plus, in Denmark there is a voluntary sick pay insurance scheme that I had luckily signed up to, so I did get sick pay.

Deciding to go solo is a huge deal and when considering it there are a lot of worries and concerns about what could go wrong. What did go wrong for me was much worse than I ever had imagined! Yet, one year on, I have no regrets. Of course I wish that I hadn’t got cancer, but I have no control over that. I love being self-employed, I love working from home and I love my job!