How I put my jealousy to good use.

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It was about this time last year after being sick and feeling run down that I decided I was going to try and get healthy and exercise more, so off I went to the gym and started to run on the treadmill.

Why did I pick running as my exercise of choice when I had a whole gym worth of equipment at my disposal?

Well to be honest, I was jealous of all the runDisney race posts and pictures on Facebook, Twitter, etc. from all my friends after they had run various and multiple races at Walt Disney World and Disneyland last January. They were all having so much fun and I was wishing I was right there with them. I wanted to run through the parks and get my picture taken with the characters too.

Reading all these posts, I came across a number that talked about the Galloway method of training so I looked it up. Now this was a training program that I thought I could do. Never having run before the prospect to getting on a treadmill and running for a half hour or more straight intimidated me and I felt set me up for failure, but a program that mixed running with walking I could manage.

After a few weeks of running I was actually starting to enjoy it and felt impressed with my progress. I could do this; I could be a runner, so why not sign up for a race, which is exactly what I did.

My first race was in April. Living in Canada I know spring races can be cold but I was not expecting -2°C with biting winds in which to run my first 10 km race. I was the third last racer on the course but I finished in an hour and 10 minutes which for me was a win. I figure most of the more casual/recreational runners were smart and stayed home instead of racing in those temps.

With a 10 km race under my belt I decided I could tackle a 10 mile race in October. This gave me 5 months to train but more importantly (to me anyway) it gave me an excuse to go to back to Walt Disney World. I went home and immediately registered for my first runDisney event, the Tower of Terror 10 miler.

Once registered it was just the motivation I needed to keep running and not give up and go back to my sedentary ways. Training for a 10 mile race was about as difficult as I imagined it was going to be and finding time for my long runs did create a challenge some weeks but I did it. I’ll post later about my Tower of Terror 10 mile race experience.

Running is now a part of my life although at the moment I haven’t run in a while due to a MCL injury sustained playing roller derby but I truly miss it and that is something a year ago I never would have imagined I would ever say.

Running has been a great experience for me, or more accurately a great many experiences. I’ve run a number of races now and learned a lot about myself along the way. I am so thankful for what running has brought me: strength, stamina, friends and memories, all of which I would not have obtained without it.

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My mid life crisis?

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Photo by Sean Scally

 

Is Roller Derby my mid life crisis?  I don’t think so but many people have asked me that since I joined a roller derby league last May.

Well then why did I join roller derby?  I’ve asked myself that many times since I started and there are many reasons but I always seem to focus on one.  If I hadn’t tried it I would always have wondered if I could have done it.  I’m a big believer in trying new things and living for today.  When I’m old I want to look back on life and remember all that I’ve done and accomplished instead of looking back and regretting what I never tried.

I’m certainly not the youngest player on the team but neither am I the oldest.  My “derby sisters” as I now affectionately call them range in age from 18 to 57 so at 41 I guess I’m sort of in the middle.   Our group ranges in abilities as well as age.  We have a few girls that may take 2 years to pass their minimum skill requirements to compete in a bout and a few that look like there were born on roller skates.  I must point out that the better roller skaters did have what I would call an advantage as they were all either hockey players or figure skaters for many years.  Whether young or old, athletic or not this diverse group of women have been supportive and encouraging and become like family to me.

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Photo by Sean Scally

 

Roller derby happened in a time of my life when I was trying to get healthy and active so when a friend of my husband’s starting talking to him about being a referee for the league it got me to thinking about playing.

I’d started running a few months prior and felt I was in pretty decent shape so transitioning to the activity level of roller derby shouldn’t be that hard, or so I thought.  Ha Ha, I could not have been more wrong.  The muscles you use for running are very different than the muscles you use for derby.  After my first few practices I had muscles that hurt where I didn’t even know I had muscles and I was totally exhausted after just a half hour of the two or three hour long practices.  8 months later I’ve gained so much strength and endurance that some days it still amazes me how far I’ve come.

Along with the healthy aspects I must admit there was a bit of me that thought I could finally be one of the cool kids.  All through high school I was the quiet, shy, book worm that was dubbed the “pastel princess” because of the clothes I wore.   In recent years my shyness has definitely receded and I was gradually becoming more confident but I still saw myself as reserved and boring with few friends.  This was my chance to totally break out of that shell and be the funky clothes wearing, bold, outgoing woman that I knew was buried inside me.

Roller derby is a competitive sport that is seeing a huge resurgence in popularity.  It is not what people think it is from watching movies like “Whip It”.  There is no fighting and intentional injuring of other skaters, but let me tell you what there is:  hard work, dedication and hours and hours of training.  I train 5 hours a week and skate any chance I can outside of practice.

I’m a derby girl and proud of it.

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Photo by Sean Scally

 

So was joining roller derby my mid life crisis?   No way!   A crisis is a negative event and roller derby has been anything but.  It has been (and hopefully will continue to be for a long time) an amazing adventure that has brought me a new awareness of myself, confidence and a lot of incredible new friends.

My Disney Addiction

ME & Minnie

My “Disney addiction”, as some have called it, started when I was five years old.

After two years of battling cancer my baby brother, Robbie, finally succumbed to his brain tumour.  A few months later my parents felt it would be a good time to get away from the stresses of real life so we all headed to Walt Disney World (WDW).  It was a wonderful, magical experience for me and where I felt happy for the first time since Robbie’s death.   I learned to smile and laugh again on that trip as I made my parents nauseous spinning my cup as fast as possible on the Mad Tea Party ride.

One of the few pictures I have of Robbie smiling was of him in his walker with a pink stuffed elephant.  At the tender age of five I equated that elephant with Dumbo and absolutely had to go on that ride as well.  Both of these rides are now a must do on every trip I take to WDW.

Since that first visit I was hooked and have gone back to WDW so many times I’ve lost count.  As a kid I travelled each summer with my grandparents and they would ask me where I wanted to go.  The answer was always the same, WDW.  Being Canadian it is no quick trip to drive to Orlando and back so I didn’t manage to convince them every year but more times than not I was successful.

I remember one particularly boisterous trip when I was sixteen.  My mother agreed to drive 4 giggling, teenage girls to Florida for a week and we absolutely had to visit WDW.  All the other girls had never been before so it was fun acting as a sort of tour guide around Magic Kingdom.  I thank my mother for her courage to brave that trip even when everyone thought she was crazy; including the border guard who took one look in our van on the return trip and decided there was no way he was searching through our mass (or more accurately mess) of stuff.

I now have two kids of my own and will never forget that look of wonder in their eyes as they walked down Main Street for the first time and saw Cinderella Castle. My husband was equally excited since he never had the good fortune to visit when he was a child.

All these cherished memories and so many more that were created at WDW with my family are the biggest reasons I keep returning.   Things and people come and go but memories stay with you forever; and there is no better place for making memories than at Walt Disney World.   

You just never know what life will throw at you!

I thought about getting your attention by being dramatic and saying December 4, 2013 changed my life forever but in all honestly it really didn’t.  Nothing actually changed that day.  It did however foreshadow what could come.

Let’s start this story by back tracking a little. In January of 2013 after feeling constantly run down with colds, the flu and all the usual winter ailments I made a resolution to get healthier so I started running.  I never would have expected it but I actually enjoy it now, at least the not so long runs.

After 5 months of running I was feeling pretty good about myself, so in June when a friend of Wayne (my husband) mentioned she was starting a new roller derby league in the area I thought why not try it.  In recent years I’ve realized instead of looking back and regretting what I didn’t do because I was nervous, I should just do it.  Off I went to the information session and signed up. It has been challenging but amazing and you can read more about it on my roller derby tab.

In October I started feeling tired part way through roller derby practices and actually had to stop a few times because I was getting dizzy and had weird vision on my right side.  It was like the right lens of my glasses had Vaseline on it.  In November I finally listened to Wayne and went to see my doctor.

Having seen me for sporadic migraines before she thought this increase in headaches was likely related to hormone changes. “Remember you are more than 40 now and things change” she said.  She did however decide to send me for an MRI to rule out anything more serious.  I’ve seen this doctor since I was 14 and she is aware of all my family history and knew that I had lost a brother to a brain tumour when he was 3 and wanted to rule out a similar fate for me.

Off I went for my MRI and it wasn’t as horrible as I was expecting, especially considering I am a little claustrophobic. I just wish I had been warned about all the changes in sounds the machine would make.  I would just get used to the noises when it would start to make different ones, like an alarm going off.  Maybe I should have taken that as a sign of things to come. Just kidding.

I was at home with a nasty stomach bug and my doctor’s office called to schedule a “non-emergency” appointment to go over my MRI results.  Since she never calls to discuss results unless something is wrong you can imagine what was going through my mind at that point.  I’m just very thankful the receptionist specified it was a non-emergency appointment or I may have lost my mind waiting a week to see the doctor.  As it was, I still worried.

After much thought, I came to a remote but possible conclusion, maybe they found evidence of a concussion from one of my roller derby hits or maybe even more remotely possible, they saw the beginning signs of Alzheimer’s. My husband kept telling me I was forgetting things that he claims he told me, so I was starting to think I was having memory troubles.

Imagine my surprise when on December 4, 2013 my doctor told me the MRI showed the possibility of Multiple Sclerosis (MS).  Never had that possibility crossed my mind. I was in shock to say the least. Like so many people, I knew very little about MS and thought it affected your muscles and you ended up in a wheelchair unable to do anything for yourself.  I kept seeing in my mind Annette Funicello being pushed around in a wheelchair looking so frail, which was such a horrible contrast to the vibrant Mouseketeer she once was.

My doctor explained in very basic, non medical terms a little about MS and it being caused when Myelin breaks down and signals from your brain aren’t transmitted properly. She used the analogy of phone lines. Myelin is like the wrapping around the phone cable that keeps the signals traveling at the right speed, to the right place and from getting messed up.  When the Myelin breaks down the signals end up with static and those signals are not heard properly, or at all.  What causes the Myelin to breakdown is the subject of much research.  My doctor also went on to talk about the different types of MS. You can have episodes of “attacks” or “relapses” followed by periods of relative normalcy which can be months long, but you will eventually get progressively worse. Or you may get progressively worse over time without the periods of relative normalcy.  The severity of the attacks and progression is greatly varied and impossible to predict.

She could not however give me a concrete diagnosis, for that I will need to see a neurologist.  Unfortunately she recently had another patient referred for the same basic issue and was told it would be 8 months before she could get an appointment with the neurologist.   My doctor did also caution me not to read too much about MS online and panic myself because not all the information is accurate but she gave me a few sites she trusted for correct information.

I didn’t ask many questions at that appointment or even retain a lot of what she probably told me that day (due to shock), but I have done a lot of online reading since that point in time – from the sites she told me and admittedly a few others.

From all my reading, a lot of things are starting to make sense for me now like: why I was recently tired so much, why I forget things (according to Wayne), why on occasion I’ve had incidents where I could not get my muscles to work to hold a pen and write (I assumed it was a pinched nerve and it may still be), why my vision can be messed up at times and fine others and why I have rotten balance. All these things can be symptoms of MS (and yes I know 1,000’s of other things too).

I will admit, I’ve had my moments of self pity and what I call “why me syndrome” but then my natural cheerful nature returns and I realize I could have problems considerably worse than MS. MS isn’t going to stop me from doing what I want. I will still run and complete my first half marathon next year, play my first roller derby bout and take my trips to Disney.  Maybe I’ll even take more.  MS may someday in the future change how I do things, but aging does that too.

I’ve had too many people close to me die way too young so I’m not usually one to put off doing things. Long before this year people have criticized me for spending money on holidays to Disney instead of saving for the future and I would respond with comments like “I’d rather do things while I can, so I have memories for when I can’t.” MS is not a death sentence by any means, but even more than before I will live my life to the fullest because you never know what tomorrow will bring.

I’m still waiting for my appointment with the neurologist to confirm the diagnosis but I’ll be okay with whatever the outcome is.  I have the love of my family and friends, a roof over my head and food on the table which is more than many have, so I will be thankful every day for what I do have.

“Being happy doesn’t mean everything is perfect, it means that you’ve decided to look beyond the imperfections” – Unknown

UPDATE – February 5, 2014

Last month I had a temporary panic attack when I received a call from the MS clinic at St. Michael’s hospital saying they wanted to see me 5 days later.  If they were getting me in so quickly this could not be good news.

Off I went to my appointment with a lovely neurologist originally from France.  I loved her accent.  At the end of the consultation she said she did not know what to make of the findings and wanted to call in a more experienced doctor.  I waited around for another hour to see both doctors together.  The second older doctor was just as perplexed.

In the end he indicated the findings were NOT consistent with MS but he was unsure what the lesions were.  They are not cancer and the tiny ones are consistent with age and migraines.  There are three that have a larger size of 7mm or more which are what they were really looking at but the curious thing about them is two of these are in matching spots of each side of my brain. I was even told that it could just be the way that particular MRI is calibrated that it is more sensitive to certain things.

What next?  Back for another more detailed MRI in 6-8 months to compare findings. The doctors are NOT concerned and say I shouldn’t be either as I have no significant problems that cannot be attributed to other things.  It could be the way the scan was taken or it could be an anomaly.

Just another instance of me being unique. No one ever said I was normal (whatever normal is).