If you’re lucky enough to be in the mountains, you’re lucky enough!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Another trip to the Garden, a glance in the rearview mirror, and a peek to the future

 Happy to be running in the sun!

Sunday we headed out to the Garden of the Gods for a run in some continued fantastic weather.  There was no intention of a long run, especially since Steve ran long on Saturday, part of which was in the Garden.  However, it is such a great place to run, we could go there multiple days in a row and not become bored!
 Kissing Camels through the trees on Palmer Trail
 Group photo as we ran past the Trading Post.  We need one of the saguaros for our yard!
 Steve climbing the Strausenback Trail
 And running down the other side!
Parting shot across the Garden - desert against mountain backdrop

As always when running the Garden, we had a great day.  Once again, we hit the low 60's which was outstanding!  We called it a day after 6.5 miles and for whatever reason, were both quite hungry.  No better place to be, so we headed back over to the Trading Post for a Southwest Burger and fries.  Yum!  Although it was a shorter outing, it was great to get out and stretch the legs and collect some good red dirt on the shins and shoes!

Shoes - Montrail Mountain Masochist
And now, a quick glance in the rearview mirror...

In other news, some of you may or may not have noticed of late that I have not been as prevalent in the running posts (unfortunately, I am painfully aware).  In order to explain, we'll go back several months' time and look at some things that seemed unrelated to me at the time that affected not only my running, but everything I do.  (In all actuality, it probably even started before that, some of which will become clear to me as time goes on.)  I had noticed, specifically related to running, that I was starting to struggle to pace myself on hills that would never have been an issue for me.  I was needing to walk rather than run up mere gopher mounds.  It was a strange sort of pervasive fatigue that was in no way subject to "mind over matter" that anyone who has exercised regularly for years often uses when they have "one of those days".  I mentioned to Steve, too many times, that it felt like I had 5 lb. weights strapped to my feet and just couldn't get my legs to move.  The troubling issue is that these days started to string together into weeks, then a month, then two months.  Looking back now, I don't think I have had a run where I felt 'normal' in quite a few months.  Three runs that stand out in my mind were the Rescue Run on January 1, the Ponderous Posterior on January 15, and Cheyenne Mountain on January 29 where I remember moments during  those runs where I thought, "hmmm, something isn't quite right but can't put my finger on it....."  
Then came the more troubling symptoms.  My upper arms and shoulders ached.  Not just a little but like I was doing 1000 rep sets of push-ups, to the point where I sometimes struggled to lift my arms shoulder height. I got "stuck" trying to put on or take clothes off over my head and needed Steve to help me. And the tremors - I could not sit in a chair without my legs quivering, sometimes to the point of not being able to concentrate.  Then there was the weight loss - around 9 pounds.  Not that I'm complaining about losing a couple, but when it continued in spite of a newly ravenous appetite where I was eating EVERYTHING - something wasn't right.  And it wasn't flattering - my body was basically cannibalizing all of my muscle mass.  I have always had decent upper body muscle tone and it was gone - I looked like an emaciated, shrunken refugee.  Also, my heart rate started pounding and became irregular - and fast.   Quite fast, as in 50 beats higher than normal at rest.  I started wondering whether or not I was getting ready to have a heart attack. I was fidgety, restless, and completely exhausted and yet, couldn't sleep.  And hot!  I am ALWAYS cold - never hot.  I was sleeping without covers at night when usually I am hunkered down in my nest with blankets tucked tightly around. The heart symptoms and leg tremors are what finally drove me to the doctor.  What.In.The.World.Is.Happening???   

That is pretty much what I asked my doctor as I could not explain away any of the symptoms.  It's funny how we come up with illogical explanations for things:  the thought crossed my mind that perhaps my Camelbak was bouncing around and therefore causing my achy shoulders and upper arms.  Completely illogical as it's never bounced around in the years I have been running with it.  I blamed the extra fatigue on the dark days of winter.  And so on.  I was fortunate that our family doc (whom I've gone to for 20 years) was immediately suspicious of a couple things and ordered some extensive blood testing (where they hooked a hose up to my arm and drained a gallon of blood from me.  I asked the lab tech if she was going to leave any in me).  One of his theories showed clearly on the first blood tests and he ordered a more specific test with some 'reserve', which confirmed to him that I had a diseased thyroid.  It is startling in itself to hear the word Disease come from your doctor's mouth.  Then you start to wonder what happens next.  Family doc wants me in to see an Endocrinologist ASAP (he said if we couldn't get in to one here in town soon, we would go to C.U. in Denver), and in the mean time, puts me on a Beta Blocker to protect my heart from being damaged.  CRUD - 'heart' and 'damage' in the same sentence?  PANIC!!!  The potential for having a heart attack was VERY REAL (YIKES!) if left untreated in spite of the fact that I have NO heart related risk factors - I have low blood pressure (normally!) and very low cholesterol (newly discovered from the gallon of blood they drained from me).

A very caring and understanding scheduler at the Endocrine specialist sensed my desperation after telling me the next appointment is a month out.  She says, 'Sweet thing, let me call you back.'  Five minutes later she calls back.  She had called a couple of patients whom she 'knew' to see if one would be willing to swap appointment times - which one did.  For 9 AM.  The Next Day.  WOW!!!  What a girl!  So, at 9 AM, the next morning, I am in the specialist's office learning about hyperthyroidism and thyrotoxicosis, whereby my thyroid was malfunctioning had gone into warp speed and was spilling  thyroid hormone into my body.  Not only that, the hormone that my body "used to" make to keep the thyroid in check had stopped producing - nada, zilch, pretty much Elvis.  The doc (a young gal whom I liked very much) ordered more tests to confirm the flavor of thyroid disease - another gallon of blood, an ultrasound, and a radioactive iodine uptake scan.  On March 7, I was officially diagnosed with Graves' Disease, a severe form of hyperthyroidism that is actually considered an autoimmune disorder (based on the fact that the thyroid is trying to attack itself).  It has been described as a "Beast" of a disease - I would agree as it is debilitating in all aspects of life particularly when untreated.  Most people recognize Graves by one of the common symptoms - bulging eyes - which I am happy to report DID NOT happen to me!  While there is no cure, Graves' is very manageable.  I am fortunate to have two doctors who were perceptive and jumped on it immediately.  According to the specialist, I am a textbook case.  Ha!  Comforting to know I am normal!  I am also thankful that both docs are VERY empathetic to my desire to get back to my level of activity that I so enjoy and assured me that with some time and patience, I indeed would.   And an added note:  in a time where we hear so many horror stories about health care, I can say that there is not ONE thing I would change about how this whole process unfolded.  Everything fell into place - from the docs, the procedures, and the wonderful scheduling lady.  Nothing could have gone any smoother or any more timely.  In spite of the less than optimal reason to be there, it was a very positive experience.

So now, maybe, you can begin to understand the short runs, the nonexistent photos, the look on my face in this photo!!!  Steve has done a great job figuring out how to keep it mostly "hidden" but has been pestering me (he can be a relentless Pesterer) the past two weeks to talk about it.  At first, when we had an inkling of what might be coming after the first visit to our family doc, I was embarrassed.  Don't ask me why - I just was.  I was an embarrassed invalid - perhaps defective in some way.  I am getting over that - not QUITE there yet - but it is what it is.  The specialist doc reassured me that I didn't do anything to cause the disease.  In her words, it was Murphy's Law and in my DNA destiny.  The curious thing is that Graves is often hereditary.  I quizzed my Dad about it and neither of us know of anyone in our family with thyroid disease.  High blood pressure and high cholesterol, a BIG YES (go figure), but no thyroid issues.

There are three ways to treat Graves:

1.  Antithyroid meds
2.  Radioactive iodine treatment to kill the thyroid
3.  Surgery to remove the thyoid

Apparently, the most popular in the U.S. is the Radioactive Iodine Treatment.  I am not ready to kill off a part of my body yet so I am trying the antithyroid meds.  I will take them for 1.5 to 2 years and have a 30% chance of going into remission at that time.  We are ready to take a chance of 30%.  If the meds don't end up doing the trick, then I will have to opt for the RAIT.
I have been on the med for 2 weeks and am noticing a bit of an overall improvement.  Supposedly, it takes about 6ish weeks to flush the excess thyroid poison from the system and that most people start to feel close to 'normal' in 2 to 4 months.  I have to stay on the beta blocker to protect the heart until my thyroid levels are more normalized - probably another good month or so.

I am trying to just 'go with it' - Life Happens.  But, doggone it - we had plans!!!  We had REALLY planned for some races this year - I am encouraging Steve to GO FOR IT and I'll catch up.  I will be happy to be his cheerleader.  We had planned to do the Run Through Time in Salida last week - Steve didn't want to 'drive all the way over there' if I wasn't able to do it, too.  So I am throwing out the rest of his early schedule so he can be gently peer pressured to race:  Cheyenne Mountain 25k April 23, and/or Greenland 25k May 7, maybe Sageburner 25k on May 28, and the GOAL race of North Fork 50k on July 16.  I had planned to do Cheyenne Mountain and Sageburner but will have to live vicariously through Steve, for now.  We'll have to find some things after North Fork as I HOPE to be up and going by then. Right now, I have to be happy to eek out 5 miles for my 'long' run (ha, ha) at a shuffling pace because, well, that's all the body can do right now.  The 6 and 7 miles I tried to do yesterday and the past couple of weekends just wipe me out too much.  Crazy. I am cautiously excited about one aspect, though:  there is a good possibility that this disease has affected me for a while, as a slow drain on the system, and that, after recovery, may experience some improved physical performance I have not seen in a long time.  That.Would.Be.AWESOME.  A girl can hope.........

So there you have it, the whole, long (still abbreviated), gory story.  The biggest reason we wanted to share is to offer up the information for others out there who might be going through this whole Graves Disease thing and to also potentially get feedback from any who might have already been there and done that.  We have thought about setting up an information page that chronicles the journey.  Interestingly enough, there doesn't seem to be tons of info out there regarding athletic people and Graves.  I experienced other symptoms, which are common to Graves, that weren't mentioned on this post.  We will gain a much broader perspective in our rear view mirror once we get a little farther down the road.  Thanks for hanging through this LONG post.........

Happy Trails this week!


Indi said...

I'm glad that the issue was identified and you guys are taking steps to resolve it as best you can. so often things go un-noticed and they become debilitating!
Sending you strong positive vibes!! Those plans will happen, i have no doubt!

Christi said...

I am so sorry that are goign through this but I am sending you positive vibes also!

Laura@Run_Eat_Date said...

Thank you for sharing. So many times as bloggers we only put out the "good" stuff for people to see. You do so many folks a great service by putting this disease out in the forefront so others might benefit. And your honesty about your reaction to it is also important to share. Endurance athletes so often blame themselves for not being able to do what the mind wants...and your story shows us the importance of listening to our bodies and seeking help. Wishing you a speedy road to kicking its butt and coming back stronger - sending you lots of positive vibes as well.

Brad Poppele said...

Great Pictures as always! What camera do you use?

Generation X (Slomohusky) said...

Kathleen thanks so much for sharing. Very glad this was caught early and the meds have been effective thus far. I pray they will continue to do so. Stick to whatever plan the Doc's give you. Sounds like you have some good ones!

If I lived closer to you two, I would do each and every one of those runs with Steve in your absence. You two are my favorite blogger friends I have met.

All my best. I know it will ALL come together again for ya. We will read about you doing the long runs again soon! Take care of yourself!

Brad Poppele said...

Sorry to hear about the unfortunate diagnosis. At least you now know what you are dealing with. Keep your positive attitude! Take care!

HappyTrails said...

Everyone - thank you for the kind words and encouragement! This, too, shall soon pass!

Brad - Glad you enjoy the pics! We use a Canon PowerShot SD960 Digital Elph. It certainly does take nice pictures especially from such a small package.

Danni said...

Yikes. I wish you luck in dealing with this illness.

HappyTrails said...

Slomo - Thanks for looking out for Steve and being willing to run with him while I'm temporarily out of commission (if you lived here). You are a sweet and thoughtful guy! :-)

Meg said...

Thanks for the heartfelt message. I thought you had been running, for some reason.

I know you'll enjoy and appreciate any running you do, we're all fortunate to just be out there! Thanks for this, my heart goes out to you and I'm sending BIG HUGS your way!

Jennifer said...

Gosh K. what a horror story. I can't believe you have had to go through that. Both of you! But, I sense a growing feeling of positiveness and energy in your story. You have so many folks behind you and I for one will continue to give encouragement and good luck!

Anonymous said...

Hey Girl ---! So proud of you, and you are so inspiring! You are well on your way back!
And.... I have the same Patagonia shirt.. In purple :) and.. I recognize that skirt :)

ajh said...

Thanks for sharing. I am guessing the running you were doing took an amazing effort far beyond what one would expect from someone who was not at tiptop shape. I am so glad you and your doctors caught this. What a great thing to have everything happen the way it should in your care. I am glad Steve pestered you.

At this point, the only medicine I have is for high blood pressure. When I told my doctor I felt fine, she replied - That is why they call it the silent killer, Andrea - Okay she got my attention and yes I take my medicine.

Do what you need to to stay healthy. I am sure you will talk Steve into racing and you will be an outstanding cheerleader.

And those burgers sounded great.

Ace said...

Hey it takes some guts to share, and I'm glad you did! All of us over here will be praying for you and for a quick and complete remission/recovery.

Keep us updated!

Maybe we'll see y'all at Cheyenne mtn, and greenland, and north fork... ;)

T Z said...

Yikes. So sorry you're hampered with the probs you're having. Dana and I will keep you in our prayers. You guys are always in our thoughts. Toss my hat in the ring with those who wished they were closer so they could run with Steve (and you.) And it's not just cuz we love your mountains and trails--we like you too!!

And +1 on the Canon 960.

Jill said...

You look adorable in that outfit, Kathleen :). I bet that really helps bright up your spirit, too!!!

I hope you are feeling better, I think about you often!!


GZ said...

Whoa - heavy stuff, but along with everyone here - I agree: thanks for sharing, all the best and we're here cheering for you to take this on.

Glenn Jones said...

Kathleen - I am favoriting this post. Everyone needs to be as brave as you when something doesn't seem right. All too often we are afraid of the truth and live in a state of denial until it's too late.

Kudos for seeing, and especially, trusting the folks with the technical knowledge. And thanks for sharing!

Johann said...

First, thanks for the beautiful photos of yet another fantastic run. Second, thanks for sharing with us the trouble you are having. That sounds awful but I'm sure the docs know exactly what they are doing and before you know it everything will be back to normal. Thinking of you and stay positive!

Happy Feet 26.2 said...

THANKS so much for sharing. (I may, or may not have helped to increase the level of Steve's pestering - eek) I think it's an important story and hope that you will set up the page following your journey. I KNOW it has been REALLY scary for you and Steve and I'm glad you had a good experience with the medical facilities. You never know who needs to read about this now, or may remember reading the story at a future date in time. I'm glad you are seeing some positive results from the meds. Embrace the 5 milers.

Ok Steve - I know the racing will NOT be the same without Kathleen, but ask yourself this ? Would you want her to sit out, if you were temporarily sidelined? Go race my friend....life is short. Go make K proud!

Thanks again to both of you.

Tina @GottaRunNow said...

I've missed your running news, K, but thought maybe you were busy at work. I'm so sorry to hear of your painful symptoms, but glad that you've got good doctors (visiting my dr. is almost like visiting a friend). I'd do just what you're doing, starting with the meds.

I think writing more about this is a very good idea - helpful to a lot of people. Hoping and praying this day is filled with less pain for you and joy even in those 5 mile runs - running 5 miles is no small thing. : )

mtnrunner2 said...

Kathleen - I'm a bit late to the dance, but just read this and hope you can recover 100% or as much as humanly possible! It must be good to at least not be wondering any longer, and have a plan of action. Personally I find waiting and/or not knowing to be very difficult.

A writer for a philosophy blog I read has HYPOthyroidism, and I've watched her deal with that, a very tough time and with surprisingly similar symptoms, notably fatigue. Shows how delicate a balance our bodies strike at any given time.

Wishing you well,


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