Something new: Heidi’s words on paper

The September 2012 issue of The Phoenix, the official publication of the United Ostomy Associations of America, features a new column called Ostomy Outdoors. It is authored by none other than Heidi, who shares a bit about her post-surgery trail running experience.

Great job, Heidi!

No Slowing Down for My Ostomy

Here are some clues that my schedule has become crazy busy lately:

  • This morning I tried to brush my teeth and put my socks on at the same time. It didn’t go well.
  • Dust bunnies are currently breeding out of control in all corners of my home. I am very glad they are peaceable creatures.
  • The two minutes it took for my oatmeal to cook one morning this week sounded like the perfect time to squeeze in some blogging.
  • I’ve seriously thought about putting on my running shoes while doing errands and chores to see if I can cut my time or get a personal best. I can fold a basket of laundry and put it away in five minutes. I am going for three.
  • I ate spaghetti with sauce from a jar for dinner three times this week.

It is hard not to over-schedule when I am feeling well. Everything sounds fun, and before I know it, I have filled my days with so many activities that I barely have time to sleep. I am still having hip pain, but it has lessened some. My orthopedist can’t find any cause other than a slightly deep hip socket joint that may be causing my bones to rub a bit. Regardless, he thinks it is something I will just have to live with. I can do that. My physical therapist is also working with me on hip alignment issues that could also be part of the problem. The good thing is that both of these individuals think it is fine to run and hike. Despite things hurting a little bit, I am thrilled to be out moving again and I am taking full advantage of every opportunity that presents itself. Doug and I have already gone on two three-day backpacking trips this month, and our summer is only getting started. Breed away dust bunnies… I am going to be ignoring you for a while.

Doug and I on top of Mt. Massive on our second backpacking trip of the season.

I remember wondering if I would ever be able have crazy hectic marathon-like days with an ostomy. Would I be able to manage it in a tight schedule? What about having enough time to empty? Could I eat at any hour of the day? This week was my busiest since surgery, and I am happy to report that insanely full days are completely possible with an ostomy.

On Saturday, I got up at 5 a.m. to go to City Park in Denver to run the Undy 5000. This is a run sponsored by the Colon Cancer Alliance. Proceeds from the race go to pay for colon cancer screenings for the underserved. We have been in the middle of a record heat wave in Colorado, and the high temperature for race day was 103 degrees. I tanked up on water, said hi to some of the people from my local ostomy association who were volunteering at the event, and headed for the start line. The heat was oppressive and I got nauseated during the run despite staying well hydrated. It was definitely not the day to push it, so I enjoyed a more leisurely pace and finished the run in roughly 31 minutes. Even with the heat, my ostomy appliance stuck fine. I indulged in some post-race treats and beverages, perused the booths and then headed home to take a shower and get on to the next activity of the day: a 9+ hour work day.

Showing off my undies in front of the inflatable colon at the Colon Cancer Alliance’s annual Denver Undy 5000.
Sporting my ostomy t-shirt from thegreatbowelmovement.org at the start line for the run.
Everyone gets in the spirit of the Undy 5000 by running in their underwear or other fun bum-related costumes.

Soon I was up in the foothills leading a Jr. Ranger event at one of the parks in the Open Space System where I work as a naturalist. I spent the next 4 hours in 90-degree heat running through a meadow helping youngsters catch insects and teaching about the amazing diversity of bug life in the park. After a quick sandwich-dinner and a practice music session with my coworkers, I told stories and played my guitar as part of an evening sing-a-long and storytelling program for the campers. When we finally packed everything up to head back to the trailhead, it was almost 10 p.m. I had gone full blast from roughly 5 a.m. until 10 p.m. and my ostomy did not slow me down one bit. The only thing that was challenging was staying hydrated, but I had brought a huge personal water container along to the park since there was no potable water there. I drank over 8 liters of water that day.

The next morning Doug and I were up early to head to a friend’s going away pool party. We swam for several hours in the morning and then had a delicious BBQ in the afternoon with burgers, brats and corn on the cob. (I am fortunate in that my ostomy tolerates possible problem foods well when I eat them in conservative amounts, chew a lot and drink plenty of water.) Later that evening we headed back to the pool. I had never been in the water for such a large percentage of a day since having surgery, but my wafer did just fine—even with numerous trips down the water slide and many cannonball jumps.

Doing laps on the water slide at my friend’s pool party.

The crazy week continued. Monday included a doctor’s appointment and an evening dinner with Doug’s parents. Tuesday was filled with work and then my local ostomy association meeting in the evening. I collapsed in bed at 11 p.m. only to get up at 4:30 a.m. for our local Bike to Work Day. It was another scorcher, but the temps weren’t too bad so early in the morning. I rode my bike 7 miles from my house into Golden, and then continued for another 6.5 miles up into the foothills to the park where I work. That part of the ride included 1,900 feet of elevation gain. That evening, I rode back home, ate dinner and went right to bed.

Arriving at my destination after 1,900’ feet of elevation gain during our local Bike to Work Day. My amazing coworkers left encouraging messages for me along my route.

As I type this, I am on the plane traveling to visit my parents for several days in Washington state. This wasn’t the aircraft Doug and I were scheduled to be on (and we certainly weren’t supposed to be in the first class section where we now sit). Our plane left Denver an hour late and we missed our connection to Seattle which also meant we missed the last flight to the small town of Walla Walla where Mom and Dad live. Suddenly life became a bit spontaneous as we had to completely rearrange our plans. The airline put us in first class for our next flight, gave us meal vouchers and are covering our lodging in Seattle until we can catch another flight to eastern Washington in the morning.

Through all these unexpected twists, I hardly even thought of my ostomy. My main curiosity was how my very first trip through airport security since surgery would be. I was fully expecting to have to say something about my ostomy to the TSA personnel. However, I didn’t mention it and went through the metal detector uneventfully like everyone else. I did get asked to run my baggage through the scanner again, but only because I failed to realize that I was supposed to remove my laptop from my luggage. Security didn’t even ask me about the scissors in my ostomy changing kit in my carry-on (which are allowed according to TSA because the blade is under 4 inches long). We shall see if Seattle airport security goes as smoothly with my ostomy.

Blogging while enjoying the surprise first-class seat assignment on the plane.

As soon as I get back home, I have four evenings after work to unpack from this trip and get my things ready for the next adventure: The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America’s Camp Oasis where I will be volunteering for a week as a camp counselor for children ages 7-13.

Through all these activities, my ostomy has faded into the background. I change my appliance twice a week, empty when I need to, eat when it fits in (many times as late as 9 p.m.), and drink a lot of water in the heat. Other than that, I can honestly say I don’t think about it a whole lot and it is not an inconvenience in my life. The longer I have my ostomy, the more I realize how normal everything feels with it– even during the busiest of times and when dealing with last minute changes in plans.

As great as it has been doing so many fun things this month, I know I can’t keep this pace up indefinitely. The dust bunnies will start to haunt me, a personal best at the time it takes to clean the shower will suddenly not sound so cool, and I will want to pull a cookbook off the shelf and actually make something decent for dinner. I am craving lawn chair time with an iced tea and good book instead of a huge “to do” list of things to pack for the next race, bike ride or outdoor trip. My ostomy hasn’t slowed me down one bit, but I think it is time to put the brakes on myself. Well… after the climbing trip we just scheduled for the end of the month that is.

Trading disappointment for delight at the Bolder Boulder 10K

Disappointment is one of the emotions I have the hardest time dealing with. As I was standing at the start line of the Bolder Boulder 10K on Monday waiting for the gun to go off, I wasn’t sure how to prepare my mind for the letdown I was sure to have at the finish line. I knew before I even began to put one foot in front of the next that I had no chance of matching or beating my results from the last time I did this race in 2009. I hadn’t run for at least a month and had just found out from my physical therapist a few days before that I had some major pelvis misalignment issues that were likely causing some of my pain and injury. Though he didn’t say I shouldn’t do the race, he did say I should take it easy and stop to do some exercises and stretches along the route. I had no idea what a taking it easy pace would even be. Did that mean I should jog? Walk? I had never done a race where I wasn’t running as fast as I possibly could.

Making my way to the Bolder Boulder starting area at 6:30 a.m.

I was still pondering these questions when the shot fired. I took off at a pace between a jog and a run, but still the questions lingered. What time would I be satisfied with? An hour? Two? Though I don’t have a competitive streak when comparing my performance with others, I am fiercely competitive with myself. Ever since recovering from ostomy surgery, I had wanted to prove that I could do as well in this race as I had before getting so sick.  I knew that was impossible with my current painful hip, but there had to be some sort of goal, right?

As I ran down the street and watched the people in my wave pass me one by one, I realized that this race wasn’t going to be about reaching any pace goals. It was about simply being there. After all, just weeks ago Doug had picked up my race package for me. At the time, I couldn’t even make myself open it. I didn’t want to see the running bib that I was sure I wouldn’t be wearing due to what was thought to be a stress fracture in my pelvis. Yet luck had veered my way.  The x-ray had been a misread and I had been given the go-ahead to run while undergoing further tests for other pain causes. Here I was immersed in the event that I had wanted to do so much, and all I could focus on were things I had no control over. I couldn’t make my injury go away, and I couldn’t magically make up for a month of lost training time. I could, however, adjust my outlook.  As I ran under the banner marking mile two, I flicked an attitude switch in my head from the side that read  I am so bummed that I am not going to get the time I hoped for to the one that said I am so amazed to be running through the streets of Boulder surrounded by beautiful views, music on the street corners and onlookers handing out treats to the runners like bacon, cotton candy, and marshmallows.

I much preferred the second attitude and decided to keep the switch there for the remainder of the race. (I did, however, avoid catching any marshmallows. I had already had my fill of those the day before after consuming six of them to slow output before my appliance change.) At every mile marker, I stopped to do the exercises the physical therapist had recommended I do during the race. I knew that these stops were sabotaging my time, but I no longer cared. When my hips started to hurt slightly at mile four, I slowed down the pace. I had no worries. No expectations. In the past, I would never have veered off course to become a target for child with a Super Soaker. Never before had I taken advantage of the offers for high fives from sideline spectators. I don’t remember looking at the stunning vistas of the Flatiron rock formations along the race route in previous race years. At the slower pace, I took all this in.

Every other time I ran the Bolder Boulder, I finished in just under an hour. This time, when I looked at my watch at 59 minutes, I still had a little over a half mile to go. Just for old times’ sake and knowing that I was close to the end of the race, I picked up the pace and ran as fast as I could for that last half mile. I felt strong and vibrant as I entered the stadium and sprinted the final half lap to the finish line. Other than amidst the marshmallow-catching antics earlier in the route, this was the first time I thought of my ostomy during the entire race. I thought of  all the things I had gone through since last entering that stadium in 2009, and how lucky I was to be back to health and running there again.

As I crossed the finish line, the letdown and disappointment that I was sure would greet me there had been replaced by delight. And when I finally looked down at my watch to see my time, 1:06:33, I was even more blown away. That was only about eight minutes longer than my 2009 time. This was certainly enough to please my self-competitive side — well, for the most part. In the stands after the race, there was a moment when I lamented to Doug that had I not been injured, I would have really nailed it. He reminded me that I was injured and that I did nail it. Oops, that little attitude switch had gotten bumped into the wrong place again. I put it back to the “here and now” slot, slathered myself with some sunscreen and sat back to watch others racers jubilantly cross the finish line — including a banana, gorilla, coyote, bear ,and unicorn. Hmm… maybe my goal for next year should be to run the Bolder Boulder in costume.

Resting in the stadium with Doug after the race.

Hanging out at the crag (feat. new video)

Lately, Ostomy Outdoors has turned into Ostomy Indoors. It feels like it has been so long since I have been outside doing even the smallest outdoor adventure and our video camera has been sitting on the shelf untouched for months. This has all been due to the hip pain that I have been writing about lately. My orthopedist gave me the go-ahead to work out again, yet I am still experiencing significant soreness in my groin and hip. A small uterine fibroid was ruled out as a possible cause, so my doctor wants me to go in for one more MRI just to make sure it isn’t a lower back issue. This has left me in limbo-land; I’m unsure if I should proceed full throttle with my trail running and other strenuous activities, or if I should hold back until I know more. I can work through some pain, but I don’t want to cause an injury.

Maybe as a result of some of this uncertainty, my spirits have hit rock bottom lately. I have been feeling super tired despite getting lots of sleep, and my normally positive attitude has been playing hide and seek with me. Yesterday afternoon, after bidding my brother-in-law and nieces farewell after a fun weekend visit, I spontaneously decided that Doug and I needed to go rock climbing that minute. It was gorgeous outside, and even though I had a daunting to-do list, every cell in my body was telling me I needed to get my body on the rock for some inspiration, or the gloomy emotions that I was experiencing would continue. Also, I was sure that my sore hips could handle the smooth, methodical movement of climbing.

Doug and I are fortunate in that we live in close proximity to some amazing climbing areas. We quickly tossed gear into our packs and within 30 minutes we were driving up Clear Creek Canyon to one of our favorite local spots. As I grabbed my climbing pack out of the car and headed down the trail, an incredible peace came over me. Gone were all thoughts of painful hips. Doug and I were going to be on the rock in a few minutes, and that was all that mattered.

It is hard to describe how much I love rock climbing and how vital it is to my life. Doug and I got into this sport together and have been been climbing since we first met in the college dorms in 1990. That year, we bought our first carabiners, rope, and a beater Toyota pickup to use on climbing trips. We have so many memories on the rock and have made many life decisions based on our shared love of this sport, including my desire to have a permanent ileostomy to treat my UC. To be out climbing with Doug again is joy in its absolute purest form.

However, as I climbed that afternoon and into the evening, there were moments of disappointment when things felt harder than they used to. I had to constantly remind myself to quit comparing my performance to the days of old. Things have changed, and though I may eventually return to my previous climbing abilities, it doesn’t really matter. The important thing is that I was back outside, covered in that wonderful mix of sunscreen, chalk dust, and dirt, and loving the amazing feeling of my body moving upwards over the rock. I ended up having so much fun that I completely forgot about the special solar viewing glasses sitting on my bookshelf at home all set for watching the 7 p.m. eclipse. We completely missed it! At first this disappointed me too, but I decided an afternoon in the canyon climbing and laughing with my sweetie was  so much more memorable and important. It was exactly what we both needed.


The inspiration that the spur-of-the-moment climbing excursion brought was also much needed. I hadn’t filmed a video for Ostomy Outdoors in a while, and hadn’t really planned on filming anything yesterday. Along with being in a mental funk, I was also in a creative one. Fortunately, climbing outdoors rekindled the desire to film, and I was glad we had brought the video camera along. At first, being filmed again felt as awkward as getting back on the rock after not climbing outside for months. When the camera rolled, I felt tentative and unsure of what I wanted to say. I wasn’t even sure when we left the canyon if the random footage we filmed could be woven into a coherent movie. I hadn’t really filmed any tips or tricks and wasn’t even sure it had a theme. Once I got home though and watched the clips, a story did begin to emerge. This day at the crags and this little film is about reconnecting with my passion, and discovering its ability to infuse my life with the hope and creativity needed to keep moving forward.

Happy anniversary Ostomy Outdoors

Today is the one-year anniversary of Ostomy Outdoors. I can’t believe it has already been 12 months since I wrote my very first post! I never imagined when I started this blog what a big part of my life it would become. I am so thankful for all the things that keeping this blog has taught me and brought to my life… including so many new friends. Thank you all for reading, commenting, emailing me and continuing to inspire me with your stories and experiences.

Today ended up being the perfect day to celebrate this anniversary, as I got some amazing news. The MRI results on my hip and pelvis came back showing absolutely no bone damage– including no problems from prednisone and no stress fracture. Turns out what had originally looked like a fracture on the x-ray ended up being nothing. What did show up on the MRI though was a uterine fibroid. I already knew it was there, as my surgeon had told me about it after my ileostomy surgery. However, it has gotten a bit larger. The orthopedic surgeon thinks it may be hitting a nerve and causing my pain, so he referred me to ob/gyn for further evaluation. If they feel the fibroid isn’t an issue, the orthopedic surgeon will refer me to one of his colleagues that specializes in lower back injuries to see if something might be going on there.

My doctor also said that, depending on what I can tolerate pain-wise, I can go back to any workout activities I want to and it will not cause any damage. This news could not have come at a better time because yesterday I was really in the dumps. I had discovered that my body decided to vote its canine tooth team member out of my mouth due to a strange autoimmune response and that tooth extraction may be imminent. (I will write more about his in a separate post.)

But fibroids and teeth issues matter none to me now. I can walk! I can run! I can climb!!! And how does one celebrate an anniversary and such great news? Chocolate? Wine? Both good choices, but what I really wanted to do was dance. I drove to the gym from work intent on making the 6:30 p.m. Zumba class. I threw on my neglected workout clothing, grabbed some water and barged into the fitness activity room at the gym. Oops- there was no salsa dancing to be seen. Instead, people were spread out in meditative yoga poses and didn’t seem too happy with the interruption. In my excitement over the good news, I had completely gotten my days mixed up. Yoga is on Thursday and Zumba is on Friday. It was too late to join in on yoga, so I did 20 minutes of elliptical instead. I didn’t care what fitness activity I was doing. It just felt so good to move my body. I realize now how much I rely on exercise to reduce my stress, and how much not moving much had increased my anxiety and tension levels.

There is one more reason that I am so overjoyed with this news: I will be able to get back out on the trails with my video camera. I have so many outdoor activities planned for the summer that I want to film and write about. Here is to the next year of amazing adventures for all of us!

Me on the snowboarding trip in April 2011 that inspired the idea of Ostomy Outdoors.

Good news: no more crutches!

For the past three days, I have been nervously awaiting my appointment with an orthopedic surgeon to find out about the injury I mentioned in my last blog post. I am so used to going to the doctor for digestive- and colon-related issues. It felt a bit unsettling to go in for something entirely new like a bone problem. And I was even more anxious because the pain had gotten a little worse over the past couple of days. It had been especially intense at night — even keeping me awake for several hours.

At the clinic, the orthopedic surgeon looked at my x-rays and examined the area of my injury. He thought the stress fracture was small enough that I could ditch the crutches (unless I was having pain) and just take it easy. He said soon I could try some light exercise such as swimming or maybe easy biking, and to listen to my body and stop something if it causes any discomfort. However, because I have been experiencing the worsening pain at night, he wants me to get an MRI in 7-10 days to rule out a few things that could be more serious.

I was so ecstatic as I walked out of the doctor’s office sans crutches. I have a huge appreciation for those who have dealt with them for long periods of time. Using crutches is incredibly tiring, and it was difficult to rely on others to constantly carry my stuff or bring me things. It is next to impossible to have anything in your hands with crutches. My coworkers joked that they were going to get me a cowbell to ring every time I needed help. Thanks goodness I won’t be needing that.

Bye bye crutches!

So I am relieved with the circumstances for now and will cross my fingers that nothing strange shows up on the MRI. I know I will still have to cancel some activities in the upcoming month or so as I heal up, but I am confident that the plans I made for later in the summer will stay intact even if I have to tone them down a notch.

For this weekend, sitting in the grass with my sketchbook still sounds just about right.

A disappointing setback

In my last post I wrote: Sitting in the stadium on my 40th birthday, I realized that I still had no idea what was around the corner. Well, today I witnessed how true this statement indeed is.

In mid-March, I started to experience some mild hip pain. It came out of nowhere during one of my most sedentary weeks. I hadn’t been running or hiking much and had mainly been swimming, doing Zumba and doing the workouts my trainer had recommended. I had gone snowboarding a few days prior, but had not pushed it because it was icy and I did not want to fall. I really don’t remember if I took any tumbles on that day–if I did they were insignificant. I thought maybe I had just stressed a hip muscle doing side planks at the gym. In a few days the pain was gone and I did my 5K run. My hip was sore enough to limp after the race, but the next day the joint felt perfectly fine. I took it easy for the next six days doing one aerobics class, yoga, stretches, core work and light weights. The next weekend I was feeling good enough to go on a five-mile trail run, but found that my hip hurt again afterwards. Due to my history of prednisone use and the osteopenia it caused, I decided to schedule an appointment in a week’s time with my doctor to have the hip looked at. I just wanted to be sure nothing strange was going on. I had also been dealing with some knee pain in the opposite leg and figured I would get that looked at too.

In the week or so waiting for my appointment, the hip pain completely disappeared. I went for a mellow three-mile trail run with no soreness afterwards. In fact, thinking whatever had been bugging me had healed up, I even considered cancelling my appointment. As luck would have it, a really busy work load last week left me too exhausted to head to the gym much except for some short core and upper body workouts.

On Monday, I finally got in to see the doctor, and she decided to order some x-rays. At the time she thought it would be okay to stick with my workouts until the results came back the next day as long as I didn’t do anything crazy. I was actually heading to Zumba class when her call must have come in telling me the results of the x-ray. Due to a glitch in my cell phone service, the message she left did not show up on my phone. It was only when I got to work the next morning and saw messages on my work phone and then finally showing up on my cell phone that I got a panicked feeling. I knew if the x-rays had shown nothing, she would not be trying to reach me so many times.

My stomach knotted up as I dialed in to get the various messages. As I heard my doctor’s words, that knot traveled up into my throat and turned into a lump: the x-rays showed a pelvic fracture. She told me to get some crutches as soon as possible and to put no weight on my left leg until I could get in to see an orthopedist later in the week. I cringed when I thought of all the jumping I had done in Zumba the night before… and all the other workouts I had done in the weeks since the subtle pain had begun. And then the tears came as I thought of all the plans that this news so swiftly destroyed and all the progress it had immediately halted. I knew this injury would take a lot of time to heal. My mind raced to all the unknowns and I found myself swallowed by that familiar feeling of being overwhelmed.

As the day went on, I started to feel better once the shock of the situation wore off. My coworkers gave me hugs and made me tea to make me feel better. I called Doug and my Dad on the phone and they managed to cheer me up. I also found out more specifics from my doctor. The fracture is small. It is in the front of my pelvis near the symphysis pubis. Though I really won’t know anything until I see the orthopedist on Friday, from what I gather from the tiny amount of research I have done is that these injuries heal with rest and refraining from weighting the leg during the recovery time. Then there will likely be rehab exercises.

Already my mind is gearing up to get me through this. Now that the tears are out, it is reminding me of all the things I can do like draw, and write and watch the beauty around me even if while sitting under a tree instead of hiking down a trail. In my last post, I also wrote that uncertainty is okay. And you know what? It is. I will find the strength to get through this challenge just as I did during my healing period after ostomy surgery.