I’m A Finalist!

…but I need your help! I’ve been selected as a finalist for Enchanting Travels Travel Writing Award, and I am in the top 10. The winner is determined by the person who gets the most Facebook likes on his or her story by the end of September, which is quickly approaching!

If you read my story and think it is worth it, please help me increase my chances of winning by liking the following post here. * I would be so grateful for your support!

 

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*You have to “like” this exact post on the Enchanting Travels Facebook page. Please click on the hyperlink above to be directed there!

A Year in Review

Remember that bucket list I had for 2016? Gotta be honest here, I’ve been crushing it.

*At the end of this year, I will have gone on four international trips:

-I took my mom on vacation to the Dominican Republic, something I’ve always wanted to do.

-I’d been waiting to see South America for a long time, so I finally bought a ticket to Peru and Bolivia in July for travel that same month(Which was a little crazy, yes.)

-I had yet to explore a new country with my boyfriend, so we booked a trip to Iceland in October.

– In less than a week, I’m heading to Thailand and then South Korea.

-I also traveled to Minnesota, Georgia, Delaware, and Illinois, among other places.

 

* This year I got serious about my poetry and started submitting my work, and it paid off:

-So far, I have had over 15 poems published in anthologies, literary magazines, and journals!

-I won first place at the 2016 Sigma Tau Delta International Convention for my collection.

-I had essays in Thought Catalog & Odyssey Online.

-I read with the Pittsburgh Poetry Roadshow & Voices From the Attic launch party.

-I celebrated my first year of blogging!

 

 

But, 2016 wasn’t all smooth. I also had some scary stuff happen with my health.

*I had a pacemaker put in, but was determined to keep running and I finished:

-Pittsburgh  5k

-Pittsburgh half marathon

-GNC Liberty Mile

Erie full marathon

EQT 10 Miler

 

I made this list not to be conceited, or talk about how great my life is (trust me- it isn’t always!) but because I’m incredibly proud of my accomplishments this year and have worked really hard to get to this point. It’s taken sacrifice, hard work, and admittedly, a couple breakdowns, but I’m so happy with where I’ve arrived.

I’m a big believer in being proud of your achievements, because why shouldn’t we be? If we don’t, who will? You’ve worked your ass off. Celebrate your victories. Don’t let jealousy in. Don’t be bitter. Don’t worry about coming off as “bragging.” Uplift each other. Support each other. You traveled to a new country? I wanna see! You committed to a healthier lifestyle? That’s awesome! You graduated? Great work!  Go ahead & show it off. I’m proud of you.

For those of you feeling stuck: I was there. I promise if you focus on the things you love and make them a priority, they will become your reality. I stopped putting my dreams off this year, and look at what happened. 2017 can be your year. Go get ’em.

 

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P.S. Happy holidays everyone!

I’ll check back in a couple weeks when I’m back in the States.

 

A Change of Pace

Well guys….if you’re reading this, I have successfully finished my fourth half marathon!

This one, however, was much different than the rest. (You can read more about my running journey here.)

Let’s backtrack: I had never run more than two miles when I signed up to run my first race, the EQT 10 miler, in November of 2014. I ran and ran and ran. I got faster and stronger. I fell in love with it. In May of last year (2015), I placed 3rd in my age group in the 5k race, and the next day finished my first ever half marathon under a 9:00 min/mile pace, a huge feat for me. I went on to run two more half marathons that year and countless other races. And then, I signed up to take on my first full 26.2 miles on May 1st, 2016.

Fast forward to January of this year. More fainting, loss of breath, and several doctor appointments and tests finally brought the news of my heart issues. Not even 6 weeks ago, I underwent surgery to have a pacemaker put in. This completely shattered my plans to compete in the Pittsburgh full marathon, and indefinitely set me back on my progress with a sport I’d come to love and respect so much.

 

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In action at the 5k Saturday. I finished at an 8:20 pace.

 

But if it’s one thing that running has taught me, it is the ability to push yourself not only physically, but mentally. Anyone who knows me well can tell you that I am stubborn. That I set goals. That I am hard on myself.

So it wasn’t really a shock to them that although I couldn’t run the full marathon, I would try to tackle the half. And with less than four weeks to train, I did just that.

Regardless, the race day nerves were there Sunday morning as I got ready.  I peed approximately 27 times before entering my corral, and then once more before the gun went off. I started off strong. It was raining, but the cooler air felt good. I tried to feed off the energy from the volunteers and spectators, but I didn’t feel the same excitement this year. I won’t lie, I knew this was going to be a tough one and I just wanted the race to be over with. My Garmin watch didn’t pick up signal until closer to the 2 mile mark, so I was already off to an interesting start. I tried to calculate my time/distance in my head but eventually just gave up. Just finish, I reminded myself. That’s what you’re here to do. Coming to mile 5, I saw a familiar face out of the corner of my eye. It was my friend Haley, who was just as shocked to see me! I wasn’t sure if our paces were going to line up, but we ended up running the remainder of the race together. This ended up being one of the major reasons I was able to finish when and how I did. The rain had stopped, and now it was muggy. Around mile 8, my legs were beginning to throb and a dull ache grew in my knees. My chest felt tight and breaths were getting harder and harder to come by. I knew I had gone a little too fast in the beginning, and I was starting to pay for that now. Or was it from my pacemaker? Everyone had told me to stop and walk if I didn’t feel good, but I refused. (Stubborn as ever, remember?)

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All of my long training runs since my pacemaker surgery had been slower 10-11 minute miles, which was hard for me to accept, but I was currently at a 9:30 pace. Keep going!! I told myself. I ignored the pain and pushed on, the miles melting together. Haley and I had talked for the last three miles, but we both were (literally) running short of breath and had an understood silence between us as we kept pounding pavement. It was such a relief to have her beside me. I just kept telling myself to keep going, stay with her, finish strong together. We were now around a 10:30 min/mile. I was slowing down and I knew it. My legs wanted to give up almost as bad as my mind did. We headed slightly downhill into Station Square and saw a woman getting taken away by the medical staff. I looked away and tried not to think about how that was the third person I saw strapped to a stretcher. I remembered this part on East Carson St. far too well- this was the most difficult part of the course for me last year. I still can’t figure out why, when there’s the gradual incline of the bridges, the hills, etc. Southside had the FLATTEST part of the course, yet here I was again, dragging ass through fluid stations, pouring water over my head and just wanting to die. This straight stretch lasts forever, and the task of putting one foot in front of the other seemed so daunting. I knew we were finally in the double digits at mile 10, but the finish line was a lifetime away. Another bridge and two hills were still waiting for us. My Garmin flashed an 11:20 pace and my heart sank. Although my goal was to finish, I was secretly hoping to get under a 10 min/mile pace. Realizing that there was no way I was going to get that, I focused on just reaching the finish line. I was so close, I could do this.

That final ascent is such an AWFUL beast. I poured more water over my head, trying to catch the droplets in my mouth. I needed electrolytes, so I grabbed Gatorade too. We ran through a fire hydrant that had been turned into a sprinkler. “This is the last hill, you got this!” cheered onlookers. Almost. There.

I have loved, and will always love, that moment when I can hear the announcers, the music, and see the crowds of people getting thicker as I approach the final leg of the course. There it was, the golden archway, the finish line. I took a deep breath and gave it everything I had, sprinting to the end. I heard my boyfriend scream, “Go Kara!” and I pushed harder. I couldn’t even feel what my body was doing.  As soon as I crossed, I slowed to a walk and turned for Haley. When I was able to reach her, we collapsed into a hug and I couldn’t hold back my emotions anymore. I thanked her profusely, because I wasn’t sure if I could have done it alone. I put a hand to my chest and felt my scar. I overcame so much more than 13.1 miles. And I was damn proud of this fight.

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Who run the world? GIRLS.

It wasn’t until I made it through the crowds and reunited with JJ that I found out my pace. I came in at 9:47/mile- I still made my goal of under a 10 minute pace!

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Was it much slower than last year? Yes. Did I want to stop? Absolutely. Did I (maybe) cry? Yep.

But am I going home with a sense of accomplishment in my heart and a medal around my neck? You bet.

Whatever it is you want so fiercely, believe you are capable. Even if you’re the only one who believes it. Especially if you are the only one who believes it.

 

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NEVER let anything hold you back. And remember, not all scars are visible. We’re all fighting something, and we’re not alone in it.

 

 

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The Post-Op Post

Exactly two weeks ago, as many of you know, I went to the hospital to get a pacemaker. It came as a shock to my 25 year old/heart healthy/marathon training self and many others.

I arrived at 9:30 a.m Friday, March 18th. A million things were running through my exhausted mind. I hadn’t eaten anything for over 12 hours, so I was already hangry. Immediately they took me back to prep me, although my surgery wasn’t scheduled until 12:30 p.m. I changed into my gown and clutched the gaping back to cover my bare ass, as not to give a show to everyone else in the room.

A urine sample, IV insertion, and EKG test later, after my vitals were checked and paperwork signed, I waited in my corner hospital bed with my mom and JJ until they came for me. At this point I just wanted to get it over with.

And then, it was time. I ignored the way my voice cracked when I said, “I love you,” to my two favorite people as they wheeled me out of the room and down the hall. I could not look at my mother. I knew she was already crying. Instead, I looked at my feet, took a deep breath and recalled many of the messages you guys had sent, along with the comments,  words of encouragement, prayers, and well wishes. I was still completely overwhelmed with all the support and love I’d received when I first revealed what’s been going on with my health. I knew everything was going to be fine.

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Before surgery.

 

As soon as I shifted onto the operating table, I was already feeling the anesthesia kick in. One of the male nurses said, “Are you a NASCAR fan?” I looked at him like he was drunk. Why was he asking me this now? “Um, not really,” I replied. “Why?”

“Well, you know when the car pulls in to the pit, and there’s a lot of people working really fast? That’s what we are going to do.” Suddenly, there were bodies in scrubs and face masks everywhere, grabbing things, moving around me, and then- blissful sleep.

When I woke up in the recovery room, I instantly knew something wasn’t right. Was it just my body adjusting to this foreign device? I was having spasms on my right side- it felt like being kicked in the stomach. I panicked, of course, because my breaths were coming out weird.  The nurse shouted for my doctor, and then there were three middle-aged men around my bed. One of them put his hand on my side to time out the pulses as the other recorded it on a machine. I (unfortunately) remember joking, “It’s because you’re all so handsome, it’s taking my breath away” or something cheesy of the sort.  (I was a little out of it, okay?!)

Anyway, they knew exactly what it was: One of the wires from the pacemaker was against a nerve that was pushing into my diaphragm. I would have to go right back in so they could redo it and move the pacemaker over. So, anesthesia took me off to dreamland once more.

After what I’m told was another hour and a half, I came out of surgery again. And I had the dreadful realization that I had to pee. Bad. I called for the nurse, and she brought over a bedpan. What the hell am I supposed to do with that?

“Have you ever used one of these before?” she asked. I shook my head no. This was going to be interesting…

I still don’t really know how I did it, or managed not to spill it on myself or the bed. And then, I heard the best words: “Do you want me to bring your family back?”

Minutes later, JJ and mom were in the room with me. Our reunion was brief, as they had to take me down for x-rays and other testing. “This is like a less fun roller coaster,” I said awkwardly as a nurse wheeled me away on the bed.

I don’t know if it’s then that reality set in, or if it was just the anesthesia wearing off, or a combination of the two, but they put me in a hallway next to two elderly men watching Judge Judy and it was miserable. It felt like I was stuck there for an eternity. Finally, I was all done and brought to a different room for out processing. They were letting me go home! I ate small bites of a turkey sandwich and cried when I saw these two enter the room.

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All done & waiting to go home.

*Side note: About .02 seconds after he took this picture, JJ dropped his cell phone right on top of where the incision was made for my pacemaker. Ouch.

The rest of that night and the weekend basically consisted of me sleeping, throwing up, trying to eat, and not moving. I got very sick Saturday because of the pain medication, so I stopped taking it Sunday and felt less nauseous, but obviously was in more pain. I read poetry, watched movies, and ate Chinese food.

My mom had to help bathe me, as I couldn’t move my left arm or get the site wet. (I was advised not to raise my left arm above my head, make repetitive movements, or lift much for a month after.) How humbling that was… I’m 25, an adult. And here I was, not being able to do this on my own. We had to wash my hair in the kitchen sink. Monday afternoon was my first time leaving the apartment. Mom and I went to a couple stores and had lunch while JJ was at work. She left later that evening and we both bawled. It was such a blessing having her there with me.

From there on out, JJ was my saving grace. Dressing me, propping my arm up with pillows, getting groceries, rubbing my back, etc.

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The incision site a few days out.

 

It’s been two weeks, and all of the gauze and bandages are off. I am going for much longer walks, and I’m pretty much back to normal. I still keep my arm in a sling at times- just because for this next month I know I’m going to forget to not use it in the capacity I am used to.

I still get winded going up a flight of stairs, and I had to sit down in the middle of Wal-Mart while grocery shopping because I thought I was going to pass out, but the incision is healing nicely and I hope to be 100% in no time, and (hopefully) even running again.

Thank you again to everyone who wished me well and kept me in their thoughts. And a word of advice: be really, really nice to your mom and to nurses. You can’t imagine what they’ve done for you or what they may have to help you do in the future.

Oh, and find yourself a guy that will help blow dry your hair and put it in a ponytail even if he doesn’t know exactly what he’s doing. You won’t know that kind of love until you’re shown it.

 

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The Beating From Within

As I sit here, I am still processing what has transpired over the past couple weeks… I debated sharing something so personal this publicly, but it is the easiest way to let my friends & family in and inform them.

As I mentioned in an earlier post here, there were several reasons why my presence on this blog has wavered recently, and the main reason is this:

On a Monday evening in late January, I passed out after getting out of the shower.  Fainting was never uncommon for me (as I have passed out maybe once or twice a year since high school), but back then it wasn’t made into a big deal. When it first happened, they took blood work to see if I was anemic, and I wasn’t. I didn’t really follow up, and neither did they. People fainted all the time, right? So, so what? It did not happen enough to interrupt my everyday life, and there was probably a perfectly reasonable explanation for what caused it in the first place.

But this Monday night was different. Luckily, this particular time, my boyfriend JJ was there with me and witnessed the episode. (Usually, I am by myself.) He actually caught me before I hit the ground. From that point, he said I went into a seizure, and then stopped breathing. He immediately did CPR and within a couple breaths/pumps I was okay. When I finally came to, I knew where I was (lying on the bathroom floor) and could sit up.  We called my mom and told her what happened. The fainting was obviously familiar to me, but to stop breathing? Maybe JJ was mistaken. Maybe he was scared and just overreacted, I wondered. As I felt a little weak but otherwise fine, I went to bed and into work the next day.
Later on that next afternoon, I went to my doctor for a procedure. I passed out from the pain of the procedure- not much of a big surprise as pain can trigger fainting, but it took me a long time to recover and feel well enough to sit up. I could not do anything for nearly 20 minutes. They would not let me leave to go home alone, so I called a friend, Debra, to drive me home. However, after I told the doctors what happened to me the night before, they thought it best to go straight to the ER.

At this point, JJ had left work and had arrived to the ER, along with Debra. After taking my vitals, they did an EKG test and a CT scan on my head. Everything came back normal, but they still wanted me to see a cardiologist and follow up with my PCP. So I did that, more EKG tests, and had an echo cardiogram (ultrasound, basically) done on my heart. Again, everything was coming back normal. I was getting frustrated. Maybe nothing was seriously wrong, and we all just overreacted.


My cardiologist still wanted to do a tilt table test as a next step. During this, you are strapped to a table and moved slowly into an upright position. They monitor your heart rate and blood pressure and try to induce fainting so they can see what happens. I had this done on President’s Day, Feb. 15th. I passed out shortly into the test (a good thing, actually- otherwise they wouldn’t have found anything). But when I fainted, my heart stopped for 20 seconds. Because of this, my doctor recommended a pacemaker. He said that my blood pressure is fine, and normally my heart is fine, but when I faint, there’s something that is not sending the signal to my heart to keep beating. It is a necessary precaution.

As you can imagine, I was in shock. I am 25 years old, with a completely healthy heart. Pacemakers, I thought, were for the elderly and people with severe heart conditions. And then the realizations hit me in waves. I’m in the middle of training for the full marathon on May 1st, so I have to stop running? I was working so hard to accomplish that, and had wanted to cross that finish line so badly… And for travel, can I still go through metal detectors? How will this limit me? I know I’ll have a visible scar spreading across my chest someday in my wedding dress. The thought of something being planted inside my body to keep me alive freaked me out, and as I am writing this I am still scared, but I’ve decided I am ready to take it on. My health is not something I am willing to gamble with. Pacemakers have been around for many years, and in my condition, the potential benefits outweigh the risks. My doctors are incredible, and my family & friends have been wonderful. Not to mention JJ, who has been there through the entire ordeal. I made an awful joke about it over Valentine’s Day weekend after we got the results, but he really does keep my heart beating.

So, after a second opinion and a lot of thought, I have agreed to get a pacemaker, and will undergo surgery this week.

Since coming back from Minneapolis, reality has begun to set in. I can no longer push this to the back of my mind, but I still have tried my best. Last night, JJ and I attended PostSecret: The Show in Cleveland. (You can learn more about PostSecret here.) It is something that has always been close to my heart ever since I discovered it. We made a last minute decision to go, despite how tired we’d be (especially thanks to Daylight Saving Time) and how big of a week we both had to prepare for. Since I will be cooped up in my apartment recovering, I want to do as much as I can before the surgery.

In the bathroom at the theater, there were post-it notes decorating the walls and lining the mirrors and stalls, exposing secrets of strangers.

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Some were funny, some haunting, some sad. What I love about this is that it is okay to be vulnerable- we all are. And yet, we are all in this together.

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You never know what someone is going through. You also don’t realize sometimes how blessed you are. I am nervous for Friday, and that’s okay. I’m allowed to be. And while I could easily sit here and feel sorry for myself that this is happening to me and that I can’t run the race I’ve been training for, I’m lucky to have run at all, and to have the chance to keep going.

In closing, while I don’t know how a pacemaker may or may not change my life, I know if it is what I need to do, then I have to get it, even if it seems unfathomable at 25.

My surgery is scheduled for this Friday, March 18th. Four days from today. It’s simple and I’m sure to be successful, but I’d appreciate your prayers nevertheless. They’ll keep me overnight, and I’ll be released the next day if all is well. Some people have asked, and yes, of course- I’m dreading it. I don’t do well with hospitals, IV’s, any of that. There’s no guarantee that this will even work, and I have to be aware of that fact.  My amazing mama is coming down to stay with me for a couple days, as I’ll be out of work for some time. I will do my best to give an update when I’m feeling better, but this is probably the last I will write for a while.

 

 

Before signing off, I want to give a tremendous thank you to both my amazing boyfriend and my wonderful parents, who take such great care of me and help me always. I love you more than you’ll ever know. 

I’ll see you guys soon.

 

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