Friday, September 12, 2008

Light the Night

Mary-Elizabeth does not feel like a survivor. Every time she sort of does something happens like a cold or a bruise or a weird head ache. This years goal is to make her feel like a survivor. So on September 20th we are doing the walk. All the way around Green Lake. It is a great event.

Come join us and lets see if we can't help her understand that she had done IT!!!!!!

The link I have put here will take you to the information and donation page. I want the team to raise at least $1313.13. I want that number not be a good number and not a bad.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Healing Power of Crew

Over the years I have walked the path around Green Lake with my daughter. Every now and then there would be a high school regatta. The kids would be rowing and talking and hanging out. The parents would be feeding them, cheering and huddling in small groups. There were would be boats and races starting and lots of noise. It was a great feeling to see all of these dedicated people. As we continued our walk, I asked Mary-Elizabeth if she would be interested in rowing. She thought it looked like fun.
Mary-Elizabeth was just 10 when I made a few calls and discovered Crew is 12 to 18 year old sport. Given the age limitations, she was signed up to begin Crew fall of 2004. Mary-Elizabeth and her best friend Whitney were going to start rowing together.
Sometimes things don’t always work out as planned. Instead of rowing, we entered “Cancer World” upon Mary-Elizabeth’s diagnosis of High Risk Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia late summer 2004. While she could not row, she was able to watch the regatta’s, wear the sweatshirt Whitney bought her and wait until she could become part of a team.

Mary-Elizabeth tried to take a rowing camp the summer of 2006. She was still taking daily chemo and in treatment. But it was a way to try and row for a bit and see if she could do it at all. She did okay until the second week when somehow she sprained her ankle getting out of the boat. Go figure. She began her long career riding in the launch with the coach. It was the first glimpse into the way Lake Union Crew/Holy Name Crew program was going to handle her illness and eventual recovery. They did not skip a beat. If she could not row, she could ride. If she could not run, she could do a core work out. If she could not do stairs she could lift weights.
Fall of freshman year she was not able to go more than one day a week. In the spring, she went two days a week. She was able to row off and on during the summer of 2007. In the fall of 2007, her participation increased to three days a week and finally four in spring. Her last couple of weeks, she did five days a week and then was able to row for the first time in competition.

It was a long long struggle for her to regain her health. While her treatment officially ended in December of 2006, the side effects of 30 months of treatment, hundreds of doses of chemo, dozens of spinal taps, bone marrow aspirations, port placements and removals and 12 doses of spinal cranial radiation, took its toll. She was exhausted and worn out. She had lost her balance, flexibility in her ankles and calves; she had issues with her strength and coordination. She was a mess. She was cancer free but there were times I wondered: “ At what cost?””

Oh more than one occasion, I had a child in tears. Her sense of accomplishment would evaporate after a simple cold would keep away from crew for 10 days. While she might have been half way up the ladder, she found herself more than half way back down. On so many occasions, her level of loss of wellness was overwhelming. She would climb into the car after practice and be exhausted and upset and simply mad at her body for not being more reliable. There were times she wanted to quit: to give up, to let the cancer take just one more thing away from her.

Sometimes she was able to go out on the water. Sometimes she did not want to go near it, it seemed too daunting. She seemed to know how much strength she had or in most cases did not have. She simply did not want to be seen as a quitter; she is not the type to give up on something once it is started. I could tell the days she rowed. Whether or not it was a good “row” or a bad, it did something for her like nothing else. Maybe it was the endorphins, or the comoratory or the moist air or the sudden waves that splash from Lake Union into the boat. Maybe it was the sense of accomplishment in climbing into a boat, a launching from the dock and those first few strokes. It was s0mething and it kept her going back. But rowing on occasion was not quite enough.
Crew is about racing and competition. Sometimes with yourself, but definitely against Green Lake Crew or Mount Baker or Sammamish. It is the reason for all those cold windy wet work-outs. It is the reason to sit at an Erg and pull endlessly. It is the reason for all the sweats, and sport bras, and special expensive shorts and waterproof jackets. Competition is the main reason there is high school rowing.
At some point in the spring of 2008, I decided it needed to become the reason Mary-Elizabeth rowed. It was time for the maiden race. The chance to find out what it meant to look down that long course and realize the boat had to come together and cross the line before all the others.

“You are going to race this SPRING!!!!!!”
“But I am not READY, I will let everyone down!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
“I don’t care; you need to get in a boat and ROW”
“I am not ready for Green Lake.”
“Then make sure you are ready for Brentwood.”
“OKAY but I hate you,”
“That’s all right. You are supposed to hate me.”

So down the racing path she went. She worked so hard to be ready for Brentwood. All the anticipation, all the working with her teammates, all the planning and then……. The cold. Mary-Elizabeth does not become sick more often than other children, she just stays sicker longer. In this case, longer was the operative word. A week before the race she started to get sick and despite all my best efforts, she did exactly what she was afraid of doing. She let her boat down, her coaches down, herself down. Despite feeling miserable she traveled to Brentwood, she cheered, she slept on the floor, she rigged boats and she psychied herself up for Regional’s.

After much trial and error and moving around: Starboard to Port, and then to Starboard again. An eight than a four and then an eight and finally a four. She was ready. Her coach double checked to see if she would be healthy, her teammates asked. I let her coach know that boat gifts were purchased and she was rowing no matter what. We were all going to pretend this was a normal event and there were no questions to be asked.

On the morning of the race the anxiety was peaking. Now this is a child that is sure she is going to fail at every single task she undertakes. It does not matter what level of expertise she has. She is going to mess it up.

“Mom no one thinks we are going to do well. I just hope we are not last.”
“Of course you are going to be last. In fact the race after you will overtake you and you will lose that race also.” She has suffered from a great amount of performance anxiety since treatment and it was intense. My sister the Child Physiatrist told me to just agree with her. So I do.

Mary-Elizabeth scowled and laughed then went to meet with her coach and started out. They rowed to the end of the lake, more than 2000 meters away. After awhile, someone said “Here they come.” Slowly they came up the lake. Sun shining, oars glittering in the water, long smooth strokes, not in first, not in second and defiantly not last. As they neared we began to realize they were going to medal. They were going to be at least third, maybe second. They were not going to last…….. I realized I had held my breath for almost the entire race; I must have cared a bit.

Third it was. Medal and all. She came ashore, put on her medal and had a smile. That “I did it smile”. I had the “I told you so smile” Secretly I was so relieved I had been right.” So grateful that we had arrived at this point in time and health for her. It was a step, a concrete piece of evidence that the Leukemia had not won.
As we drove home from Lake Vancouver and before she dozed off for a long well earned nap she said. “Mom, I never felt like that before. I looked down the course and saw how far it was. I realized what we had to do. I also felt the adrenaline and knew we could do it. I have finally found a good use for my anxiety and adrenaline.”
Crew. It has been a healing journey. At every turn, she was encouraged, pushed, cajoled, harangued, nudged, coaxed and then encouraged some more. Her boat mates treated her like she was normal. Her coaches watched for signs of fatigue. They all made sure she made positive steps each day, week and month. Have a place to go, a chance to be with a team. A group of peers to work-out with on a daily basis. A time to forget lots of recent limitations. Crew enabled her to know she could be successful. She could gain strength bit by bit. She could be competitive and not have to give in to all the years of treatment.

The power of crew is more than in the stroke.