I first met Mimi at Big Birdcamp where we danced. We weren't gonna let the young birds do all the workin and twerkin. And then I met her again at our team meet-up after Lesko and I finished the Marine Corps Marathon last month.
It was there that Mimi said, "some time I'm going to write you an email about how 'head up, wings out' helped me in a way you probably wouldn't guess..." Of course I was curious, so I pressed her a bit, and what followed was her story; exactly as you read it below. So much love and respect for you, Mimi, and for all people who endure struggles we rarely know. #Respect
I was initially attracted to Oiselle as much – if not more – by the company’s principles as by the beautiful running clothes. I love the way Oiselle supports women through all phases and ages of our lives. As the Manifesto says, the Principles of Flight lead to success not only in athletics, but also in life. Today, I’d like to share a story about how Oiselle supported me during a challenging time in my life.
In late summer of 2016 I was diagnosed with cancer. My world instantly contracted – circled by the “Big C” – into doctor’s visits, medical tests, and waiting. (The waiting was the hardest part.) By September, the decision was made to proceed with a radical hysterectomy. Late one Friday, my gynecological oncologist gave me a card with instructions and told me to call his scheduler on Monday. When I called, she told me that the next available surgical slot was in several weeks. I was devastated because I just wanted it to be over as quickly as possible. She gently reminded me that since the doctor is an oncologist, all of his patients are cancer patients. She ended the conversation by saying, “Let me see what I can do.” On Thursday afternoon, she called and told me that due to a cancellation, my surgery could be scheduled for Monday. “Can you make that work?” she asked. I assured her that I could, hung up, and swung into high gear. Friday was spent getting the necessary pre-surgery tests, including CT and PET scans. The rest of the weekend was consumed with letting family know and ordinary tasks like grocery shopping, which I wouldn’t be able to do for a few weeks.
Early Monday my husband and I drove to the hospital and began the surreal experience of preparing for major surgery. Soon I was lying on a gurney in the pre-op area. My doctor arrived and stunned me with the news that a couple of lymph nodes in my chest “lit up” on the PET scan, a possible indication of cancer cells. As the tests were conducted so close to the surgical date, there wasn’t time to investigate the cause. He explained that the nodes were in an area where “there’s a lot going on.” Removal wasn’t an option. Instead, I would undergo a needle biopsy a day after my surgery. (Fast forward: The biopsy was negative. Whew!) In the meantime, he wanted to “take a good look around” during the surgery. So, instead of a 6-inch or so horizontal incision near my bikini line (which hasn’t seen a bikini in decades), I would have a vertical incision the length of my abdomen. Vanity was not a concern, and I assured him that I agreed with his approach. He gently patted my feet, and I could see the concern in his eyes. He told my husband that it was time for him to go, and asked the anesthesiologist to get started. My husband and I said goodbye, “I love you,” and I started counting backward from 100.
I woke up to the rhythmic beeps that are a hospital’s soundtrack. The room was spinning, a residual effect of the anesthesia, so I closed my eyes. Soon, I heard my husband’s voice. He told me that the doctor had spoken with him and assured him that the surgery went well.
While in the hospital, I managed to maintain a few connections to the running world. My first day, the nurse put compression sleeves on my legs to prevent blood clots, and I said, “Cool! These are what the pro athletes wear to recover.” I noticed that when a new doctor or nurse came in, my husband would often ask me, “How many marathons have you finished?” He later told me that he wanted the staff to see that part of me, to know how strong I am.
It took me a while to gather the courage to look at my incision. When I did, I saw 42 staples laid down like railroad ties along the track of a 16-inch incision that ran from just below my sternum, to the left of my navel, and down the length of my abdomen. (Yes, I counted the staples. I’m an engineer, and we like to quantify things.)
The medical staff, especially the nurses, were amazing – the perfect balance of compassion and the tough love needed to ensure I did what was necessary to recover well. Tuesday afternoon, the day after my surgery, my nurse came in and asked me to try to take a few steps. She unhooked me from the various monitors and helped me slowly to my feet. I didn’t make it very far, and she suggested that I sit in the chair for a while instead. Later, my evening nurse came in and told me that it was time to try to walk again. Since my first attempt, I’d learned how important walking was to my recovery. Internal organs don’t like to be jostled around, and mine had been through quite a bit. My discharge from the hospital in a few days was contingent on making sure all systems were “go” (pardon the not-so-subtle pun), and walking would facilitate that.
The nurse removed my leg compression sleeves and unhooked the monitors. I slowly swung my legs around to the side of the bed and grabbed the IV pole, while my nurse held my right elbow. I eased onto my feet with my husband cheering me on. I shuffled to the door of my room. My instinct was to protect my incision, and I was hunched over like a wounded animal. My nurse said, “You need to stand up straight, OK?” My first, unspoken thought was, “I can’t!” My body felt so strange, so uncomfortable. “Let’s see if you can stand up straight and make it to the end of that short hall,” my nurse said encouragingly. The end of the hall seemed farther away than any race finish line ever had. I knew what I needed to do, but it just seemed so hard. That’s when it popped into my head, the phrase I’d seen and heard so many times: Head up! Wings out! I slowly lifted my head, pulled my shoulders back, and took those first steps down my metaphorical road to recovery.
I was discharged that Friday (after becoming the hospital wing track star), and Oiselle also played a role in my at-home recovery. My Wazzie Wool and Lux track pants were my go-to wardrobe. They were gentle on my incision, and the ankle cuffs were not tight, which was important to help reduce my risk of post-surgery lymphedema. My Oiselle wardrobe also made it easy to get out for my walks, and perhaps most importantly, kept me connected to my identity as a runner. (Enclothed cognition strikes again!) Six weeks after my surgery, my mom, husband and I walked the National Race to End Women’s Cancer 5K, and five months later I completed a 10K and half marathon with my BFF running buddy, Kristin, at my side. There was a fair amount of walking, but I did it!
Two years later, I’m cancer free. I’m grateful that I have a loving, supportive husband and family, excellent health insurance, and sick leave benefits. Of course, there have been ups and downs. While our bodies are miraculously adaptable, they function best with all of their parts. I’m still learning the best ways to nurture my changed and changing body. The women of Oiselle continue to inspire, and I’m proud to be a part of this amazing community. Head up! Wings out!