Friday, September 20, 2013

A Story Within A Story

This is one my favorite adventures so far! 

As most of you know I have gotten the kayaking bug bad! After talking to several people about my goal and determination to learn to roll by next spring it was suggested several times for me to get this book...

So I finally decided to get on with what I could and found the book on When I received the book I started flipping through to see what it was all about. I noticed this...
Handwritten on the inside is the name Bradley Kochaniec and a quote "The future is a blank page and you hold the pen."

This is the first used book I have ever gotten that had something written in it. So to say I was curious doesn't begin to describe it. Of course the first thing I do is Google it! There was only one thing came up when I Googled Brad and that unfortunately was his obituary. He died when he was only 19 years old, being that young I knew that there are usually only very few reason someone that age dies, from a tragic event or an illness. 

Now what I did next some people might find a little over the top but there was something about this that I needed to learn about his life. 

His obituary listed the names of his parents. That's where trusty Facebook came into play. I was able to find his mother Carol on Facebook. She actually accepted my friend request and then I sent her this message.

'Good Afternoon Carol,
I hope that this message is not intrusive but I am hoping you might be able to share something with me. I recently got into the sport of white water kayaking. In an effort to further my skills I order the book 'The Bombproof Roll and Beyond' upon receiving it yesterday on the inside cover was a beautiful quote, "The future is a blank page and you hold the pen." Also above that was a name, Bradley Kochaniec. After some research I believe this is your son? I was first like to say how sorry I am for your loss. I was wondering if you might be willing to share a little about him with me? I am a firm believer that things happen for a reason so I am hoping whatever you share with me will help figure out why his name is inside my new book.
Again I hope this isn't to intrusive and I fully understand if you do not wish to share with me. I just wanted to reach out to you.
Thank you for your time and I hope you have a wonderful day!'

Then I patiently waited for her reply hoping that I hadn't severely over stepped my boundaries. Luckily for me a message popped up from her about 3 hours later and that began a fantastic conversation. Carol was so nice and shared openly with me about her son. The book I have belonged to him.

She wrote, "I remember buying him that that book when he first began kayaking. That's my handwriting. He was a great kayaker."

I asked her how old Brad was when he started kayaking. She told me he started when he was in Middle School. After spending lots of time at a rafting outfitter during summers and being invited by older (college age) raft guides to come on their "fun"run with them on river after hours and he became hooked on kayaking. When he became old enough to actually work for the rafting company he went through raft guide training. 

His mom recounted, 'As I recall, spent most of his time in the kayak running safety for the raft trips. This means he was looking out for those that fell out of the raft and making sure the fried chicken didn't get lost before they made it to "lunch rock."'

She also told me, 'Brad got the reputation for being able to read the river and know what the water was going to do and how to safely maneuver the rapids.'

He was starting to get the attention from some of the pros that would be attending events that Brad was involved with. Brad even went so far as to convince an Evolution Kayak salesman to let him take their brand new demo kayak down an 18ft waterfall. He did it agot to take it down Youghiogheny River - Ohiopyle Falls a Class IV. It is Illegal to run except associated with an event or special permit.

He started taking lessons and practicing with Tom McEwan and his team. He began Slalom racing and did well enough that he was in the U.S. Cup and Jr. Olympics in Colorado is 2002!

These photos are from some of his runs during the Jr. Olympics
He graduated and became a freshman at Mount St. Mary's University.
Carol shared, 'At the end of his freshman year, he was going to Mexico and then to Canada with some of the national team members to teach kayaking (they have to earn a living too, lol) and do some serious training with them for the Olympics tryouts in a couple of years.'
It seems Brad also enjoyed teaching. He had some helmets that had large dents in them which he referred to as "Unwanted geological lessons". He took the worst one to any lessons he was teaching so that everyone understood why it was so important to wear them properly. He used to say, " Lots of rocks underwater and you don't want to find them with an unprotected scalp." Seems he had quite the sense of humor.
With the summer planned in Mexico and Canada the scene was set to only bring Brad the next big rapid. However he wouldn't be boat riding on any of those rapids...
"The weekend before finals, Bradley, his girlfriend, and two friends were drinking. Bradley got drunk and passed out. He was laying on his back and vomited. He lived another 14 weeks but with severe brain damage from lack of oxygen. He never would have recovered fully. Brad is buried at Mount St. Mary's Cemetery on the side of the mountain."
While going to school Brad did a lot for the President of Mount St. Mary's. Even now the President still tells Brads story so that the incoming freshmen are more aware of the dangers of alcohol.

Brad's graduating class had his initials put onto the class ring. It was the first time in the schools 200+ years that anyone's initials had been added to a class ring. They gave Carol what would have been Brad's ring.

While paddling down the Potomac River he saved several people from things that could have very welled taken their lives. He even saved someone whose foot was caught over a rock and was drowning in the river. He was a great safety boater, which I can't help but wonder where his safety boater was that night when alcohol played a bigger role in his life then I am sure he thought it would.

I am still not sure this is the whole story as to why his book came to me. Maybe he or someone is trying to tell me that I should pursue kayaking to do what so many cannot.

This is one adventure that I feel like is far from over, it is only the beginning. I am sure in this large or as it turns out small world there is a reason why Brad and his story crossed my path.

The one thing that I keep thinking about is none of this would have happened if this book were available in the digital world such as downloading it through ibooks, kindle, nook, etc. Another reason why the old fashion print shouldn't be so quickly forgotten. But then there is the flip side of without the digital world I would have never found anything about Brad and certainly wouldn't have been able to find his mother. I don't know what the answer is but I am thrilled that this book is now mine.

I want to say thank you to Carol for being willing to share Brad's story with a complete stranger based solely on faith that I meant well. Brad has now certainly touched my life!

I appreciate this experience and even more being able to share with all of you. If anyone would like to share anything about Brad or about this particular book please comment here or feel free to email me


Saturday, September 14, 2013

Friggatriskaidekaphobia - Part 2

My Friday the 13th adventures continued and this is where an EPIC event took place that was unexpected...
I was meeting some friends from work to celebrate one of them getting a new job and just to hang out at JJ's Sports Bar and Grill in Northborough, MA.

We were all sitting at the table debating about what we wanted to eat. Should we just get a bunch of appetizers and share or get meals. That was when a burger caught my eye. Not just any burger this was called The Heart Attack burger. This burger is two 10oz. patties with cheese and bacon sandwiched between two grilled cheese sandwiches with a full side of fries and a pickle. If you cleaned the plate you get a t-shirt. This was of course tempting because who doesn't love a good challenge.

After some comments at the table about how this needed to happen I decided to go for it. The worst thing that could happen would I didn't finish it and wouldn't get a t-shirt. So I ordered it first asking if I could removed the lettuce, tomato and onion without penalty because I don't like those.

Then the Heart Attack Arrived!
After I removed the lettuce, tomato and onion it was still a huge burger, but I was excited about it!
I was pretty sure there was no way I was going to be able to take a bite with it all together but I was going to try none the less.
I ended up having to take it apart. So basically one burger to a grilled cheese. It was working pretty well and I was slowly making progress. I will admit I had some help because the girls were eating some of the fries. By about the 45 minute mark this is how far I had gotten.
At this point I was starting to hit that food wall. But Over the next 30 minutes I kept working at the persevered to a clean plate!
I think I enjoyed the look on our waitresses face the most out of everything. She had already told me there were several people she had seen try to do it and couldn't. Well I wasn't about to quit so I went for it! That was when she went to tell the manager that I needed a t-shirt.
I of course needed to put it on and take a picture. Our friend Nicole had some other friends at the bar who were also attempting the Heart Attack burger. I finished and they did not! Good to know a girl can still beat the boys :)

Needless to say today was not very eventful as far as food. I was still quite full from that burger! I will not be attempting it anytime soon or possibly ever again but it was fun the first time.

This was the best Friday the 13th by far! I can't wait to see what the next one holds!

Friggatriskaidekaphobia - Part 1

So the word friggatriskaidekaphobia means fear of Friday the 13th.
I assure I do not suffer from friggatriskaidekaphobia especially when my Friday the 13th was an amazing adventure!

My Friday the 13th was marking my first whitewater kayaking experience outside of First Descents. Don't get me wrong it was helped along by FD because they had a kayaking camp there this summer and one of my camp directors Patch was there. So he was nice enough to get me in touch with one of the guides that helped them that week. Clutch is one awesome guy, he was so nice and offered to take me kayaking and even supply all the gear. So we picked a day and it turned out to be Friday the 13th!

Clutch works for Zoar Outdoor in Charlemont, MA. So we met there and got all setup to go. I was so excited because he set me up in this...

 A Jackson Karma! I LOVE this boat! It was a perfect fit (once I moved the foot braces forward). I could not wait to hit the water in this. He also got me a helmet, skirt and paddle. I already had my PFD so I was all set there. We loaded all the gear and head out to run shuttle and start our day.

Another friend of Clutch's Alex was also joining us. He was just as nice and supportive as Clutch!

So I asked Clutch what I should do if I flip since I have not learned to roll yet. Cause I am good at hanging out under the water but if I'm not supposed to then I can easily wetexit as well. He said just go for the wet exit and get myself to the shore with my stuff. It was good I asked because at least now I knew I needed to do it myself.

This was a totally different feeling then being with FD. It is hard to explain but when kayaking with First Descents there is this almost unspoken sense of trust and an underlying safety net. Being out on the river today I still have the trust, I knew Clutch would help me out if needed but that safety net of being taken care of was not there. I needed to be able to do it myself which was a good thing because let's be honest if I am going to really get into kayaking I am going to have to do it myself so I appreciated that. I was independent for everything, I was responsible for the kayak and all my gear. If it needed to get to the put in then I needed to get it there and vice versa. Boy let me tell you I learned how heavy that boat was real quick! I have the bruises on my shoulders from carrying it to prove it.

Clutch explained what the river would be like. Firstly that we would be starting with a rapid right off the bat.

I was thrilled to get started. Clutch, Alex and I started down the river and made it through the rapid. But this particular spot is great for surfing and play boating. So Alex and Clutch went after it.
Clutch told me that this would be a good spot to practice surfing or ferrying across the river. I had trouble mainly because as you see in the picture there was a rafting group (4 rafts) right where we were. I am not comfortable enough maneuvering to do that around larger boats. So I opted to just watch them. Oh I also didn't need an audience for when I flip over cause I am not very good at ferrying. Although that clearly meant I should have been practicing, next time get a little further outside my comfort zone.

There were some really good rapids down the rest of the river. I will say that being the one who is the most inexperienced I was not the first one to swim!! But don't worry I flipped and swam shortly after that. Luckily it was in a rapid and not my usual spots of calmer water getting flipped by a swirly.

I learned very quickly that I needed to take care of myself. So after I wet exited I made sure to have my paddle and grabbed on to my boat. Got myself to shore after hitting my legs a few times on the GIANT rocks or in that case I guess would considered boulders. I climbed out, got my kayak out and emptied and got back on the water.

The rest of the run was lots of fun with rapids and calm water inbetween. We got to the spot right before the rapid named Zoar Gap. We got out and walked over to go scout out the rapid. This is what I saw...
To say that I was nervous would be an understatement but when Clutch asked if I thought I was going to do it there was no hesitation when I said yes! He smiled and said, "I thought you would say that." We headed back to our boats and got ready. Ironically enough as we were walking Alex said, "I don't think I have made it through the gap without rolling." That made me feel so confident. But I was looking forward to it anyway.

Clutch lead the way and I followed. I was doing fairly well until about 3/4 of the way through and I got swept by two currents and flipped over. I knew I need to wet exit quick and get to shore because there was another rapid not that much further down. Clutch got my boat for me and help carry to shore. Went through the motions and got myself all set up again. I peeled out of the eddy thinking I was cleared and guess what I wasn't so the eddy line flipped me again within probably about 20 seconds of the getting back on the water.

Once I got myself back in the boat after a few more bumps, bruises and scratches I was good to go. I made it through the last rapid. But I was able to do an amazing boof right over a pretty big rock and that was so FUN! 

The red circle it where I boofed. The whole boat was basically under water where you can see the all white water.
Then we headed to the take out.

This is a short video of the Zoar Gap just to show what I paddled through.

I was so excited to have been able to paddle my first river with very few swims considering what it could have been. I feel even more confident that I can actually develop the skills I want to. Thanks again to Clutch for taking me down the river and making it a great and successful day!

Bruises and scrapes but so worth it!
Left leg bruises and scrapes
Right leg bruises and scrapes

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Find The Land Of Fruitfulness!

So I have debated with this for sometime about what I wanted to do, if I should blog about this particular "adventure" in my life or not. But the more I thought about it the more I came to realize it is highly unlikely I am alone and therefore my experience will hopefully someday help someone else.

This is where the disclaimer comes in. From here on out this becomes very personal. There may even be some mention of female body parts and reproductive organs so if that isn't for you please stop reading. For everyone else here goes...

For anyone that truly knows me knows that the love I have for children is profound. One of the immediate first questions/concerns I had when I found out I had cancer and would be undergoing chemotherapy was, "Will this affect my chances of being able to have children?" Aside from wanting to remain alive being my #1 concern/objective, I have to say children/fertility was #2 on my list from Day 1.

Because of the nature of my lymphoma there really wasn't time to waste before I needed to start treatment. There also weren't many option discussed as far as fertility preservation. So due to the time constrant my only option was to get a shot of a drug called Lupron. Lupron is a hormone therapy drug that causes the female body to stop making estrogen therefore stopping ovulation. The idea behind getting this before treatment is that it will help protect the ovaries from the harmful effects that chemotherapy can cause. In my case one shot lasts approximately 3-4 months and since my treatment only ended up being slightly more than 4 months I only got one shot.

So I completed my treatment and at my first 3 month check what do think was one of the first things out of my mouth? That's right I was asking when my periods should be returning. My oncologist told that it was very luckily to take up to about 6 months for anything to return to normal. Well I was giving him exactly 6 months. If things weren't progressing by my 6 month check up he was going to hear about it. Lucky for him my cycles returned two weeks before I was scheduled to go see him so I was thrilled about that!

Everything continued pretty much like clock work for another 4-5 months. I honestly could've set a calendar to it. However this is also the time that I started changing everything about my physical person. Changed my diet, changed my physical activity, etc. I had lost a significant amount of weight. After about the 5 month mark things start to go haywire. There were times were I would go for 2 months with no cycle or when I would get a period it would be for weeks (yes I said weeks as in 14-20 days). It got to the point where I told my primary care doctor that I wanted to go see an actual gynecologist.  During this time I also became even more concerned about my fertility so I also convinced her to do hormone testing, which came back normal for someone my age, etc.

All this continued for quite sometime. There were times where I was put on progesterone to stop the bleeding it had been going on for so long. After talking to my GYN it was decided that I would start taking the pill in an effort to help regulate things. So I did.

While all of this was going on I made it a point to keep my oncologist in the loop and voice yet again all of my concerns with what was going on. A lot of it was attributed to the recent weight loss and not so much my treatment.

I stayed on the pill for about 6 months. When my prescription ended in March 2013 I decided I wanted to see what was going on and if this had helped at all. Well since March of 2013 I have not had a single period and no I assure I am not pregnant. This has obviously been quite concerning to me as this irregularity had now been going on for almost 2 years.

So when I went for my 2 1/2 year check up with my oncologist I explained what had been going on, after a very lengthy conversation he said, "Well intially when we started your treatment the likelyhood of RCHOP affecting your fertility was very slim. However having to change your treatment to R-CODOX-M/IVAC which is a more intense treatment could have possibly had some effect." At this point I had to control myself as this has been a topic of conversation since day 1 like I said earlier. We both decided it was in my best interest that I should go to the fertility clinic!! Finally I was hopefully going to get some answers and hopefully some good news!!

I was setup with Dr. Irene Souter who is the director of perimplantation genetic diagnostis program
 with the fertility center. She was absolutely amazing!! Of course the first meeting was like pretty much any other medical meeting, lots of bloodwork and going over the plan. She explained that lots of times with cancer patients their oncologists see the return of periods to mean that fertility was unaffected. However you can have periods return and still have some affect to the ovaries and hormones. I was some what relived to know I wasn't crazy!! We did all the bloodwork before we left the office and the ultrasound was scheduled for a few days later.

In fact I had the pleasure of doing an olympic triathlon and then waking up at the crack of dawn to drive into boston on a busy Monday morning to have an ultrasound done. Let me tell you how excited I was about that! I luckily had a friend go with me which was nice support. During the ultrasounds they were amazing at explaining exactly what they saw and what it meant. Oh yea and I forgot to mention that this was an internal ultrasound, that was a fun first time experience. There were a few things to note, 1.) There was a simple cyst on my right ovary which are apparently quite common, usually come and go and are certainly not cancerous. 2.) My left ovary was very difficult to view so they made a note that it was smaller then it should have been. 3.) The lining of my uterus was still quite thin which meant that even though I hadn't had a period since March there didn't appear to be one coming in the near furture either. I left there feeling concerned about the cyst and the small left ovary.

Fast forward SIX WEEKS later (yes I did have to wait 6 weeks). I finally get to meet with Dr. Souter. The good news is that all of bloodtests including genetic testing and hormone testing came back good. The hormones were slightly off but nothing that can't be helped and I am certainly not in early menopause which was my biggest fear! However Dr. Souter did say the size of my left ovary was abnormal and that she believes based on the ultrasound and bloodwork that my chemotherapy treatment did have an affect on my ovaries. But that she also thinks with some fertility treatment I will still be able to have my own children! That was a huge relief for me!

Then she told me about what was next. I needed to have more bloodwork and what they call and HSG (hysterosalpingogram) which is basically a live x-ray of your uterus and ovaries where they inject some dye to watch the picture and make sure everything looks the way it should, there are no blockages and the fallopian tubes are working the way they are supposed to. This one scared me a little!

To prepare for this I had to go in the day before and get bloodwork done to make sure I wasn't pregnant. I also had to have another internal ultrasound. Luckily this showed that the simple cyst was gone, however my left ovary couldn't be seen. That night I had to take an antibiotic because the HSG is considered to be invasive and they use that to prevent any possible infections. While at home there were two things going through me head. First being, aside from my oncologist who has never seen any part of my body other than what isn't covered by clothing, I have never had a male doctor so I was hoping the Radiologist was not a man. and second I never thought I would be having the conversation with my husband about how the situation was down there. Did I need to shave or something of that nature.

Now on the day of the HSG I arrive in Radiology ready to do this. I get changed and then they take me down. They go over the procedure, how it will work and all the potential side effects. I sat there calm as could be as they told me they were going to be inserting a small catheter through the cervix into the uterus so the dye could be injected for the x-ray. All without any kind of pain medication, now doesn't that sound fun? So as if I wasn't nervous enough in comes the doctor who I am sure you guessed by now was a man. I was just about mortified. However I kept my cool and just told myself, "well it needs to happen and the likelihood of ever seeing this person again was slim so just deal with it." They have me lay on the table with my legs in the lovely knee stirrups 100% spread eagle for a long time. Finaly everything is ready to go and they start. They sterilize everything and insert the speculum. Then comes the fun part the catheter. He tells he is going to insert that and proceeds, surprisingly enough it wasn't as bad as I imagined slight discomfort but nothing over bearing. Then they have to slide you down the table to be the right position for the x-ray. Well while this was going on you will never guess what happened. The catheter came out. So I got to start the process all over again.

Same thing new sterile dressing, new catheter, everything. This time when he was done he had to hold my legs while they slid me down so I didn't engage any abdominal muscles which would make the catheter come out again. This slide was a success! They started the live x-ray and injecting the dye. That was more painful but I think it was due to the speed at which the dye was being injected. About 5 minutes in he left the room and came back with another doctor. Explaining the image he was seeing was a little unusual. That comment made me nervous. You also guessed correctly if you said this second doctor was also a man. They continued to inject to dye but by doing that caused some hardcore cramping/spamism and again the catheter came out.

So this is now the third time we are doing this. Now I get the pleasure of not only doing it again but with an entirely different male doctor poking and prodding down there, FANTASTIC! after I was all set up again and had been slid back down the table they again started taking pictures. He injected the dye much slower so there really was no pain/discomfort which was a relief. When all this was said and done he told me it appeared both my fallopian tubes were open and that there didn't seem to be any abnormalities. That was very good news and I suppose worth all the anguish I went through. A normal 15-30 minute event took me an hour and half! At least I got many praises of being an excellent patient during the whole thing!

That is where I am at right now in my adventure to find the fruitful lands. I decided to write about this in hopes it will some day help someone else who finds their fertility has been affected by chemo. I am currently waiting for my follow-up appointment to go over all the results and see what the next steps are. I assure that my later posts will not be this long. I welcome any comments, questions or just general support that anyone would like to share.

My one thing to leave you with is when faced with something that could affect your fertility or sexual healthy be your own advocate, ask questions and push for what you want! :)