Saturday, September 28, 2013


Sure, sometimes change is fun and exciting, but more often than we may desire, it can be very difficult.  Whether it is a change in relationship, career, a big move, even a new baby.  Whether the change is big or small, wonderful or emotionally challenging, it can rock the status quo that you've grown accustomed to.  At times like this, emotions can start to take over reason.  Feeling scared, excited, overwhelmed, discouraged, exhausted, disappointed, unsure, or even elated can cause us to make decisions that are not the best for us or our loved ones.  This has been my challenge lately.  Fortunately, some past life experiences have prepared me to reign in my emotions, step back and think things through, and trust that things will all be okay. 

"Gretchen, what on Earth are you talking about?"  Wow, where to begin...  Let me start by saying that I really do not like change!  As a matter of fact, there have been seasons of my life when I felt that I must have done something horribly wrong to have unexpected, almost devastating changes happen in my life.  I would question God, "Lord, things were going so well.  I have lived life as I thought you wanted me to?  Why are you doing this to me?  Why are you allowing my life to become unraveled?"  It just did not seem fair!  What I didn't know is that during those trials, I was growing to become the person that I am still becoming, and that person that I like!

If you have been following this blog then you know that I had really been hoping to get back on the figure competition stage sooner than later; as a matter of fact, I was hoping that I could compete this Fall.  My metabolism was on-fire in the best way ever, my upper body strength gains were unreal, and my focus was impenetrable.  What changed?  Well, I quit procrastinating on some routine healthcare issues that a lot of us tend to take for granted.  Some health concerns that I had became things that my husband refused to allow me to procrastinate on anymore.  From my persistent hoarse voice to my extremely difficult menstrual cycles.  Oh yes men, I AM going there--unapologetically too!  When I finally addressed those concerns, I had to accept the fact that long-term health problems would happen if I did not set those competition dreams aside for a little while.  The emotional me wanted to justify ignoring those concerns for short-term gratification of getting on stage again.  I was tempted to do as I'd done before as I said to myself, "It's okay.  Just one more competition season and then I can take care of those things."  Thankfully, reason was the victor and I immediately decided to put my health first.

In July, I made long overdue medical appointments with my dentist, my gynecologist, and my ENT doctor.  My husband must have been shocked that I made all of those appointments because he had been asking me to for years.  The last time that he asked me, my heart ached as he expressed his concern for me.  I do not know how many  moms are reading this, but I doubt that I am alone in my reasoning for the procrastination.  I just did not see how I had the time!  Between running five kids all over the place, to commuting to and from work to train my beloved clients, to working on my college assignments, to trying my best to accomplish at least some household tasks, I did not see how I could afford to spend the time going to the doctor.

First stop, the dentist...  Those of you who know me well know that it has been the one thing that I hate more than anything.  I used to get really freaked out by the thought of someone putting their hands in my mouth.   As a kid, I actually bit my dentist (my dad probably remembers it better than I do).  I cannot tell you how happy I was to learn that I had no cavities and that overall, everything looked excellent!  It was the single best dental experience I have had in my entire life.  If you are in Frederick, check out Kopit Dental; you will absolutely not regret it!   I sincerely believe that my dental phobia is completely gone thanks to that dental experience. 

Second stop, the gynecologist...  Unlike going to the dentist, I did not have any phobias regarding the gynecologist.  No doubt, giving birth to five children (the youngest by C-Section) has something to do with that.  Dr. Martin, commented that I had not been there in three years.  Three years ago, we had discussed my difficult menstrual cycles and he wanted to do further tests.  Stubborn me wanted to compete.  So, I put it off.  That first season of dieting down actually caused my menstrual cycles to go away for about ten months.  I do not recommend this sort of thing at all; as a matter of fact, it can be risky for your health.  It was not until I hired my coach, Dr. Layne Norton, that my diet became less extreme and more balanced.  When my cycle returned, it was not long before the periods were bad again.  Being stubborn and wanting to compete again, I put off going back to the gynecologist to address my problems with this.  Bad choice!  I tried various dietary and homeopathic remedies but nothing helped at all; as a matter of fact, I often felt worse.  By November 2012, my periods were lasting almost two weeks and by June 2013, they were lasting even longer.  I would not sit down at work for days because I may embarrass myself, I drove sitting on towels, I slept on towels, and I had to change clothes several times a day.  Intense fatigue plagued me to the point that I actually fell asleep at the wheel one day on the way to work.  The discomfort was honestly so bad that it would compare to early stages of labor (no exaggeration whatsoever).  Dr. Martin examined me in late July 2013 and determined that a hysterectomy was my best option.  Because I had adenomyosis, other alternatives were not things that I could consider. I would be able to keep my ovaries thereby avoiding going into early menopause.  The sooner the better because every month was worse than the previous month.  We scheduled surgery for August 29, 2013. 

Third stop, the ENT doctor.  On my way to my appointment with Dr. Hart, I was certain that I was going to be told that the cause of my hoarse voice was something like acid reflux or maybe even unresolved allergies.  But that was not the case.  No acid reflux whatsoever and no sinus problems.  He discovered a sizeable cyst on my vocal chord which would have to be removed.  When I told him that I was having a hysterectomy, he recommended waiting until I was well beyond the initial recovery stage for the sake of my health and pain management.  That surgery will take place on October 9.  The biggest inconvenience will be not using my voice in any capacity whatsoever for a few days and then limited talking for several days later.  No talking, whispering, coughing, laughing, grunting, bearing down, straining, eating solid food for four days.  Then I will slowly resume talking to allow the surgical site to heal properly.  The likelihood is that the cyst developed back during a bout with strep throat while I was still working and teaching indoor cycling classes before I was fully healed.  The lesson learned is this:  Sometimes quitting is the right thing to do, especially when your health is at stake.

Okay, I am going to back up a bit to when I learned that I needed to have surgery.  Just days before that, I had spoken with the fitness director at North Frederick Sport Health about the possibility of transferring there from Bethesda.  I felt a bit like a traitor to my Bethesda Sport & Health family.  Yes, I do mean family.  Never had I worked with so many individuals that I genuinely loved and felt that it was reciprocated.  That being said, my increased exhaustion was taking a toll not only on me but also on my marriage and children.  There was no energy to spare when I was home.  Additionally, I had no time or energy to invest in building friendships and growing in my faith.  When I learned about the hysterectomy and the vocal chord issue, I knew that I needed to make the change sooner than later.  Literally, I cried off and on for days.  I prayed that God would strengthen me and be with me, that he would give me peace as fear regarding these changes began to consume me.  I did not want to tell my boss and friend, Lee, that I needed to make the move.  I did not want to tell my clients that I would be leaving them.  I became worried about the transition from one club to another after I had so comfortably settled into the other club.  When I did tell Lee, my other co-workers, and my clients it was not without a lot of tears.  What I was ashamed to admit until now is that it also was not without self-doubt.  Would I be able to rebuild a client base?  How would our family make it without my income for no less than a month?  Would those I was leaving behind feel upset with me?  It was easy to admit that missing those I was leaving was hard; admitting fear was not! 

Ok, so, I had the hysterectomy.  Silly as it may sound, I really did not realize how quickly it would take the wind out of my sail.  Thanks to meals provided by my church family at Frederick Christian Fellowship and my very supportive friends and family, I made it through those first difficult weeks.  As much as I could, I followed my doctor's orders (maybe for the first time ever) by not doing the lifting and other physical activity.  It was intensely difficult to lean on others as I felt guilty for not being able to do much.  Once again, the financial impact of this was weighing heavily on my mind and I was determined to get better so that when I returned to work.  That being said, I was also determined to recover so that when I did start working again, I would not be putting my health at risk. After the hysterectomy, I learned that when they sent my uterus to pathology that the very earliest stage of uterine cancer was detected.  Had I put off the hysterectomy for another season, it is possible that it could have spread.  The hysterectomy did not only get rid of the adenomyosis, it also got rid of cancer that I did not even know that I had.  It was contained to my uterus; nowhere else!  Wow!  What would have happened if I had decided to put this off until just one more competition season?

In about a week and a half I will have the vocal chord surgery (laryngoscopy with biopsy).  There is really no fear or anxiety over it right now.  The greatest lesson that I have truly taken to heart is that I have to be my own priority sometimes in order to keep doing the things that I am needed for at home and to keep striving toward my personal ambitions.  Humble pie actually tastes pretty good when you are willing to digest what you are taking in.

Financially, not going to work is difficult.  If any of you reading this earn a salary versus an hourly pay wage, imagine losing your entire salary for a month and your salary dropping to less than half for several more months.  This has taught me to learn to count my blessings, to take note of how much I actually do have, and to be content in whatever circumstances I may find myself in.  It is a difficult part of the journey, it is a change I would have certainly not chosen for myself, and it is humbling in the best of ways. 

Personally, the time I have had with my family over the past month and a half has been the greatest of rewards.  I realized how much I missed having the time and energy to stay up to spend time with them in the evenings, how nice it is to help get them ready for school in the mornings, what a blessing it is to sit and just watch a movie on the couch together, or to play an impromptu game of UNO.  Now that I am starting to work again, I will remember to keep space in my schedule so that I do not risk neglecting my family and so that I can invest in the friendships I have longed for.

Professionally, I'm starting over.  Balance is going to be my new norm.  Just three days ago, I started working again.  My first day at the new, closer gym was Wednesday.  My body is still recovering and I can feel it as my energy levels are a little low.  As hard as it was to leave the gym I was training in, I was a little nervous about starting over with new coworkers and rebuilding my client base.  There's no denying that I really miss the training team I was blessed to be a part of in Bethesda, but I'm looking forward now.  The staff at North Frederick is great, they're young and friendly, and the facility is the best I have ever seen.  I can't deny that driving 450 miles less each week will be blissful; that alone buys back thirty hours a week.  Whether I am doing mom-taxi duties, going to voice therapy, sleeping in past 4:00AM, or just hanging with the hubby and kids, I'm sure that I can find good use of thirty additional hours a week.

Physically, the body reminds me to take it easy if I'm tempted to overdo it.  This time, I'm listening.  My appetite is only just now starting to return since the hysterectomy.  I was able to do light workouts this week with no difficulty.  I am not able to lift even half of what I was lifting before as this body is working toward recovery right now.  I'm not doing high intensity cardio yet because the impact would be a bit much on this healing body; however, I intend to do that about two weeks after the vocal chord surgery assuming that my ENT doc gives me the go-ahead.  From what he has told me so far, that should be fine.  If it was just the hysterectomy and no other surgeries, I'd be waiting until then anyway.

Competition goals are in limbo for now.  I will wait to see how my metabolism and overall strength is after the recovery from vocal chord surgery.  In the meantime, I am looking forward to hearing more about your health and fitness journeys.  Living a fit life means putting your health at the top of your priority list.  If you happen to enjoy the competitive bodybuilding lifestyle ( or any other competitive sport), remember that listening to your body when you need to slow down is important.  There will always be another bodybuilding event, another race, another MMA fight, another game.  But you only get one body!  If this blog is a blessing to you, please share it with others and leave feedback. 

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