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Introduction

Hi there! I’m so glad you’re here. Throughout the breast cancer portion of my blog, I’ll be sharing my journey over the last 5+ years with you retrospectively. I considered writing a blog many times over the past few years but I didn’t actually start writing until October 2021. At some point in these posts, we’ll catch up to real-time and I’ll be sure to let you know when that happens!

I wanted to write this blog for a few reasons actually. First, not everyone knows someone who has gone through breast cancer at a young age. I, unfortunately, didn’t know anyone remotely close to my age (25 at the time) who had breast cancer. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful that no one I knew at the time had breast cancer but it made me feel like I was going in blind. I turned to blogs to learn from others’ experiences and while they were helpful, there were only a few blogs out there that felt relatable to me.

I’ve also benefited in numerous ways over the years when others have shared their stories with me, primarily people I met after I finished treatment. I felt connected to others, I learned from their lived experiences and I even found new doctors and other resources for survivorship. I hope that by adding my story to the collective, I’ll be able to pay it forward.


Still Rising,

Personal training: How it started vs. how it’s going

I officially started training at the Jewish Community Center in July and it’s been going incredibly well. At first, I felt nervous and needed to find my footing in this new environment. I learned a lot in my studies, through shadowing other trainers, and through training a friend since March, but it still takes more practice and experience for me to feel confident in something new.

Leading up to my first session with my first client in this gym, I felt what I’d consider pretty standard first day of work jitters. I decided that I prefer to do a video chat prior to a first session with a client to go through their exercise and medical history, health goals and more. Speaking with this client previously helped lessen my nerves on the day of and it’s been part of my process ever since.

I take training seriously and I wanted to make sure I was prepared for our first session together and that I would leave the assessment with a much better understanding of my client’s needs, especially since he was recovering from a medical situation. It went really well and by the end, I felt like I had the information I needed to create a training plan for him that would address his goals while supporting his recovery.

Fast forward a couple months and I now have 4 consistent clients at the JCC, training each 2-3 times per week. That may not sound like much, and it certainly was a slower start than I anticipated, but I’ve enjoyed every moment of it. My clients have signed on for more sessions with me and have all expressed that they’re feeling progress from our sessions together, which is truly all I want. While it’s only been a couple of months and a handful of clients at the gym, I’ve felt really fulfilled and like I’m actually able to make a difference in their lives.

There has always been a part of me that loves doing work where I can interact with strangers and build relationships with them. Even with my high school and college customer service jobs, I always appreciated having ‘regulars’. To me, personal training is a huge step up in that I get to exchange daily pleasantries with folks at the gym who I don’t yet know while also building relationships with and supporting my clients on a deeper level.

I also love the freedom and flexibility that comes with personal training as a contractor. I am able to decide who I train, I can determine my training schedule with my clients directly and we know enough about each other that when a scheduling conflict arises, there’s a level of understanding that doesn’t always exist in other types of work arrangements. I also love being in control of my work. There is no one telling me what to do or how to do it, but rather I am entirely responsible for the service I’m providing, which helps me grow in a way that I truly value.

I am so grateful to have found personal training as a new career path and while it’s a unique time in my life as it coincides with my first pregnancy, I am confident that this is the direction I want to continue to move in. When our baby arrives, I’ll have to take time off and I’m guessing it’ll be another slow start when I am able to get going again, but now I have the confidence to move forward full steam ahead.

I am very much looking forward to being a strong example for our child of prioritizing health and wellness, pursuing your passions and finding your own path in life. It’s not easy to be brave, take chances and push yourself to grow, but with the right support system, it truly is worth any hurdles you may face along the way.

Pregnancy: Finding my groove

Well, it’s been about a month since my last pregnancy update and a month sure does make a difference! I feel like I’ve finally found my groove in pregnancy, at least for a little while. The past month has been filled with work (personal training is going well!), spending time with loved ones, weekend trips, baby preparation, and of course, gestational diabetes management.

Boat day – 27 weeks!

It’s been a whirlwind with a chaotic schedule that made it a bit difficult for diet consistency as it relates to gestational diabetes. I had a heart-to-heart with my diabetes nurse about my struggles mentioned in my previous post, and she assured me that I’m managing my levels really well and I do not need to worry right now but just keep doing what I’m doing. She reminded me that my mental health is really important and she’ll let me know if I need to adjust anything, which felt like a bit of a relief. Sometimes I really need that type of objective assurance and guidance, which is probably one of the reasons I love therapy too!

Don’t get me wrong, I still feel guilty with every elevated reading, especially with the restaurant meals I’ve had over the past month during travel and social activities, but until she tells me otherwise, I’m just going to trust her that I’m doing alright. Or at least I’ll try. Plus I’ve finished the last of my travels until the baby comes (as far as I know), so that will help my consistency tremendously.

As far as the rest of pregnancy goes right now, I’m feeling great! I have the normal aches and pains and fatigue but no swelling yet, my blood pressure is great, and I haven’t gained any weight, which blows my mind because I’m definitely getting bigger! I know the lack of weight gain isn’t normal but because I had 17 weeks of nausea and then had to start the gestational diabetes diet just 2 weeks later, I didn’t really have the opportunity to eat like a normal pregnant person and put on weight. The doctors assure me that it’s completely fine as long as my diabetes numbers are controlled – so we’re good! We also had another ultrasound last week at 28 weeks and the baby is measuring perfectly!! As of last week, they weigh 2lbs 10oz and are in the 50th percentile – so that was additional reassurance for me!

Hi Baby!

While the medical aspects of pregnancy tend to take the lead in my life, and in these posts, there are some non-medical aspects worth sharing too. The best part of pregnancy so far has been feeling the baby move! It’s honestly been the only part I’ve actually really enjoyed thus far and I’m relishing in it now. Baby can move, kick and punch me all they want because it’s a regular reminder of why I’m doing everything I can to keep us both healthy. It’s also just a wildly unique feeling that never gets old (or at least hasn’t yet). I wish everyone could feel what it’s like to have a baby move inside them… it’s surreal.

I’d say the strangest part of this pregnancy to me is my lack of weight gain and that I’m carrying all in the front – to the point where we took photos last week when I tried on a black bathing suit because you couldn’t really tell I was pregnant until I turned to the side. I’m definitely not complaining about that but it’s bizarre nonetheless!

Now that we’ve reached the 3rd trimester, I have an OB appointment every 2 weeks and one more ultrasound at 34 weeks because of gestational diabetes. I’m very grateful for the additional monitoring that happens at this point though because it gives me a bit more peace of mind. Although I know my physical discomfort will likely increase over the coming weeks, and my diabetes will continue to ebb and flow, I am so excited to be in the final phase of pregnancy and getting that much closer to meeting our little one! 

The dust has finally settled

It’s been a month since my first gestational diabetes (GD) appointment where I learned the intricacies of how to manage GD and the dust has settled. As you may have gleaned from my last post, I felt quite overwhelmed initially and for the first couple weeks, I really struggled.

My first week of diet change, food calculating, timed eating intervals, 4x/day finger prick glucose testing and walking/exercise after meals felt like a huge endeavor. Physically, sure, but even more so mentally. I basically spent every waking (and sleeping, thanks to stress dreams!) moment thinking about aspects of these changes and how I was going to manage my diet accordingly while still getting all the nutrients I need as a vegetarian and living a semi-normal life.

In the beginning, I tracked every morsel of food that I ate using MyFitnessPal because I wanted to ensure I was eating the correct amount of carbs per meal or snack, and I wanted to track my protein and calorie intake to be able to gauge how this new diet was affecting those. My doctors were (and still are) primarily concerned about glucose levels but I was worried about protein and calorie intake as well.

In the beginning, I was managing about 1200-1500 calories, which is even a calorie deficit in my non-pregnant state, so I was worried. I lost my appetite entirely and was force-feeding myself on a schedule just to follow the guidance and I simply couldn’t eat any more than I already was. I wasn’t used to eating every 2-3 hours. Plus the challenge of non-carb vegetarian options (apart from dairy) being so low calorie that it hardly made a difference calorie-wise if I could manage to eat more veggies in a day.

I’ll be honest, and I mean absolutely no offense to anyone who truly struggles with this, but this is the closest I’ve felt to experiencing disordered eating. I can’t ignore nutrition labels now. I am mentally labeling foods good and bad (which I don’t agree with, but can’t help in this situation). I’ve lost most of my joy in eating – since everything is so prescriptive and I’ve lost so much of my food freedom. I am limiting certain social interactions around food because it’s often too taxing to try to figure out what to eat in uncontrolled environments. I feel guilty when I’ve experimented with new foods and my glucose reading is high. I struggle with my mental health when I am too strict with the plan and I worry about negative consequences for baby or myself if I ease up a little. And every day is different. Just because something worked for me yesterday or last week, doesn’t mean it will work for me today. My body and hormones are continuing to change during pregnancy and there is no “I’ve got it figured out” with this. It’s ever-changing and I’ll have to continue adjusting throughout the remainder of my pregnancy.

As you all know, I struggle with medical trauma from breast cancer and all that I’ve been through since then, so this is an added mental health struggle for me. Luckily, like my doctor said, it has become just a little easier to manage as I’ve learned more through trial and error. I’m trying very hard to find the balance of it all and I’m continuing to work with my gestational diabetes doctor every week. This is simply another challenge that I need to manage and work through and I’ll keep on keeping on as best I can. Thank you all for your support throughout!

Gestational Diabetes – Lessons Learned

I had my educational session at a diabetes clinic last week and wow – there is a lot to learn! I was very grateful that my nurse also had gestational diabetes (GD) and told me how angry she was when she was diagnosed. She said whatever I was feeling was valid and that set the tone for the start of our relationship. I appreciated that more than she likely knew – since I’m not the biggest fan of ignoring feelings and jumping straight to silver linings.

She started off by explaining what was happening in my body and assumed no background knowledge. While I knew some of what she was telling me, I liked her approach a lot so I’ll try to explain here in a similar manner. I’m no expert but I find it interesting and hopefully I relay the information in an easy to understand manner and definitely simplified.

Essentially, during pregnancy, your pancreas needs to produce 2-3x more insulin to process the glucose into energy for your cells. If it doesn’t, the glucose stays in your bloodstream and causes elevated levels in both you and baby. Baby’s pancreas then has to work a lot harder to try to produce enough insulin, which isn’t ideal.

She explained that I did not cause this and it is hormone-based during pregnancy. Family history and other risk factors do play a role in that but there’s nothing I could have done to prevent it. As frustrating as that is in some respects, it’s very helpful to know so that I can let go of any guilt that I’m feeling. 

Managing this through nutrition and exercise is the best plan of attack, and sometimes even then someone will need insulin injections. Why insulin instead of medication? Because insulin doesn’t cross the placental barrier so you’re addressing the problem in the mom to help baby, rather than medicating both. She said that most women who need nighttime insulin injections do so because their morning glucose reading is high, and there’s nothing you can do about that as long as you’re following the guidance about what/when to eat before bed. Sometimes the pancreas simply can’t keep up with this intensity of insulin production and needs some help.

So, I learned exactly how to manage it based on my clinic’s requirements. Here’s an example of a day in the life now:

8am – Wake up – finger prick glucose test
8:30am – Eat breakfast (within 30 minutes of waking up – 15-22g carbs)
8:45am-9am – Walk at least 15 minutes
9:45am – post-breakfast glucose test
11:45am – Eat lunch (30-45g carbs)
12:15pm – Walk at least 15 minutes
1:15pm – post-lunch glucose test
3:15pm – Eat a snack (15g carbs)
6:15pm – Eat Dinner (30-45g carbs)
6:45pm – Walk at least 15 minutes
9:45pm – Eat a snack (either 30 minutes before bed snack 30g carbs or reg snack 15g carbs)
11:45pm – 30 min before bed snack if staying up late (30g carbs)

*Make sure to eat protein and fat with every meal and snack
**Track everything
***Eat “free foods” when I need more calories or if I’m feeling hungry (these are foods that have little effect on glucose levels)

Eating and testing times vary based on when I wake up but essentially I need to test first thing in the morning, eat every 2-3 hrs, walk 15 minutes after every meal, test an hour after every meal and make sure breakfast is within 30 min of waking up and my bedtime snack is 30 min before I go to sleep. I also need to follow their carb guidelines and track everything.

Now, this first week has been trial and error to see what works for me. Based on my morning test numbers, I don’t need insulin injections right now so that’s great! However, I’ll have to keep this routine for the remainder of pregnancy and because my body and hormones continue to change, my body’s response to glucose will continue to change.

One interesting piece is why I need to eat so frequently! Apparently, if you go longer than 3ish hours without eating, your liver releases stored glucose because it thinks you’re in a fasting state and your body needs it for energy. So if you eat after your liver releases glucose, you have glucose in your bloodstream from your liver and then also from whatever carbs you just ate – likely elevating your level if you don’t produce enough insulin to convert it all to energy.

Anyway, I’m really grateful that right now, I’m home a lot so I can really take the time to figure this out and follow somewhat of a schedule. As I continue to get more personal training clients outside of the house, I do wonder how I’ll manage such specific guidelines. I know women do it all the time with work and kids and all sorts of responsibilities but it is all I think about/plan for right now and I just hope it gets a little easier.

I am being proactive though. I created a spreadsheet with some of my most cooked meals at home and used MyFitnessPal to calculate everything so it fits within the required carb guidelines. This helped me come up with options for every meal and snack requirement that I can choose from as needed. I also found some restaurant nutrition information to come up with a few eating out options if I’m in a bind outside the house. It’s a start, and hopefully I can keep building on this list to help me stay on track with everything.

In the meantime, I’ll feel what I feel as my emotions ebb and flow and I will really try not to force myself into toxic positivity. I always feel pressure to suck it up and just deal with it with a smile on my face but sometimes I need to feel my feelings first. Yes, GD is completely manageable and 2-10% of pregnant women each year get diagnosed with it, but that doesn’t mean it’s a walk in the park. I had cancer… so I certainly have perspective and I know it will all be okay, but that doesn’t minimize my experience as I have to manage the situation. Additionally, I feel added pressure because I’m not only doing it for myself but I’m doing it to keep our baby healthy and hopefully prevent any future medical issues that could be caused by this. That’s a huge responsibility (as is being a mom, so this is just a start, I know). But I keep reminding myself that it’s okay to feel whatever it is I’m feeling as it can be so easy to try to force positivity and silver linings.

If anyone reading this is going through something similar – GD or not – know that your feelings are valid and you do not need to suppress them. Feel your feelings and work through them as best you can, with outside support if needed. You’ll likely get to a place where you feel better about the situation, but you don’t have to force it and there is no timeline. Remember, we’re still rising! ❤

Advocating for yourself is crucial

I first truly learned the importance of advocating for yourself (or having someone advocate on your behalf) when I was in Rwanda experiencing the cancer diagnostic process there. That situation never leaves me. Since then, I’ve always been a proponent of listening to your body, seeking medical consultation when in doubt, and pursuing treatment early on. Timing of diagnosis and treatment, in many injuries and illnesses, can have a huge impact on the treatment process and/or outcome. And if it turns out to be nothing? Well then you have peace of mind and can move on.

This mindset has already helped me during pregnancy and it’s a clear example of how it’s beneficial for us to be an active participant in our own healthcare journey – whatever that may mean to you. 

In early pregnancy, I was quite scared of all the what ifs. What if this isn’t a viable pregnancy? What if we have a miscarriage? What if the genetic testing shows an abnormality? I didn’t let it consume me, but it certainly hindered my excitement a bit as I felt more fear – definitely related to my cancer trauma. As the weeks went on though, appointment by appointment, I started to feel better. Each time we were told things were going well and our baby appeared healthy, I breathed a sigh of relief. Luckily, our baby is still healthy, as far as we know, and that’s all we hope for.

However, sometime nearing the end of the first trimester I was on my hospital system’s online portal looking at test results and I found something that caught my eye. It was a blood test result from a year ago, pre-pregnancy, that I had never seen before. I switched primary care providers because I didn’t care for the one I had, and somewhere in the transition, this result must have gotten lost in the mix. I had a high glucose reading – 189 mg/dL. Now, I didn’t even know I had a glucose test done so it was not a fasting test, and it very well could have been that I had some chocolate or something right before the blood test. I do love chocolate, after all. So I didn’t jump to conclusions.

The result just piqued my interest and made me wonder – could I have pre-diabetes and not know it? I have a family history of type II diabetes and while it can be lifestyle-related, genetics play a large role. Well, now I’m pregnant and I know about gestational diabetes so I wondered if this could be of concern here too. Although this test was from a year ago, I wanted to reach out to my doctor.

So, I messaged my primary care provider, my current one and not the one that performed the original test. He said that my OB would do a gestational diabetes test later in pregnancy and I shouldn’t worry about it. Well, I didn’t think that was a good enough answer so I reached out to my OB. He also wasn’t concerned, but said we could do a finger prick glucose test at my next visit.

That, to me, was a start. A finger prick glucose test isn’t a gestational diabetes test. It’s simply a measurement of your glucose level at a moment in time, without fasting or changing your diet in any way. So at my 15-week appointment, we did the finger prick test. He had a nurse or tech do the test at the end of the visit, because he said again that he wasn’t concerned at all. Well, the reading was higher than we’d like – 149 mg/dL – 1.5-2 hours after I last ate. My doctor came back into the room, surprised, and said we’d push up my gestational diabetes test to our next appointment at 19 weeks, rather than wait until the 28-week appointment. 

The process for a gestational diabetes test is that you first take the 1-hour glucose tolerance test where you fast for 2 hours prior, drink a gatorade-type drink at the office and do the finger prick glucose test exactly one hour after you finished the drink. Depending on the reading, you either pass the test or they move you on to a 3-hour test with different guidelines.

In the meantime, my doctor told me to eat a low carb, high protein diet. I didn’t think that would be much of an issue but I found it extremely difficult once I realized how many carbs are in many vegetarian sources of protein. It felt impossible to get enough protein while also reducing my carb intake. I eliminated as many simple carbs as possible, leaving in complex carbs to be able to get my protein in. I still felt like it was high carb but I did what I could. It was mentally taxing though, as I generally eat a nutritious diet as is and I follow a ‘no food is bad food’ mindset with everything in moderation. Restriction, to me, feels awful and usually doesn’t bode well for me mentally. 

I did what I could though over the next month and I tried not to let it consume me. Fast forward to our 19-week appointment. This was the big one – our anatomy scan! We were incredibly excited about this scan but I was also aware that I’d be learning more about the possibility of gestational diabetes through the 1-hour test.

I started the appointment by drinking the gatorade-like sugary drink, which wasn’t as bad as I anticipated but wow was it sweet, even for me! While we waited an hour to do the finger prick test, it was scan time! We’re lucky enough that our friend’s mom is our ultrasound tech so she spent a lot of time explaining everything we were seeing as she went and everything looked great! Nothing seemed concerning and our baby was measuring perfectly so we were relieved and thrilled with this news. It was also truly incredible seeing the images and movements, since the only other scan we’ve had was when baby was a little bean at 7 weeks. It definitely helped this pregnancy feel more real and it’s wild what you can see in an ultrasound!

As we were waiting for baby to move a little so she could get the remaining images, we realized it was an hour since I drank the glucose drink and I needed to get the finger prick done. She told me to hop up, go down the hall to the lab, test and come back so we can get the remaining images. Easy enough!

They have an in-house lab so she did the finger prick and BOOM – 202 mg/dL. For those who aren’t familiar with glucose readings, they were looking for less than 134 mg/dL. My reading was quite high and she told me that I’d likely be considered to have gestational diabetes simply off of this reading. My heart sank. I didn’t want this at all (who does?) but because I advocated for this, I clearly had an inkling that this may be the result.

I went back and we finished the ultrasound with success and then it was time to meet with our doctor. When he walked in, his first words were, “When you fail a test, you fail hard!” and I laughed, and said, “Go big or go home!” I appreciate that I have this type of rapport with my doctor and we could laugh about the situation. He confirmed that we’re skipping the 3-hour test and he’s referring me directly to a diabetes clinic for next steps. Damn – it’s good that I advocated for myself but it sucks that my concerns were validated.

The rest of the appointment was smooth sailing with the normal Q&A and scheduling of our next appointment. As we left, I felt relief that we had answers and could take action but I also felt a little defeated. If the past month was any indication on how difficult managing my diet would be, I knew this would be a challenge for the rest of pregnancy. Let’s be honest, while I primarily try to eat nutritious foods, most of my favorite foods are carbs (especially when I’m not feeling well during pregnancy)! My doctor gave the green light to indulge a little over the next week as the diabetes clinic is very strict – so I did just that! One last hurrah during pregnancy with some of my favorite foods. I should have taken some photos but alas, I was too busy enjoying every bite.

As I continue to reflect on the situation, I remain grateful that I didn’t take my primary doctor’s nonchalance as a final answer to do nothing. Instead, I stuck with my gut and I reached out to my OB, who also wasn’t worried but at least took my concerns seriously and moved forward with testing. 

Why did my doctors not feel that the original test warranted being looked into? Maybe it’s because I’m not considered high-risk from a weight perspective, maybe it’s because they know my history and that I prioritize my health as best I can, or maybe it’s simply because of my age? Gestational diabetes can happen to anyone who is pregnant, despite family history and lifestyle factors, though. There could be a number of reasons that they weren’t concerned but I’ve learned from my past that despite the odds, you can always be the exception so go with your gut and ignore the rest.

The most important part of this to me is that not only did I advocate for myself but I advocated for our baby. Gestational diabetes, if left unmanaged, can stress the baby’s pancreas during pregnancy and cause a high birth weight which is risky for baby and mama. It can also increase baby’s risk of having weight issues and/or diabetes in the future. If I hadn’t pushed a little, I could have been unintentionally putting our baby at risk over the next two months before getting diagnosed at the 28-week appointment. I would have felt beyond guilty if that happened.

Lesson reinforced! Be your biggest advocate and don’t take no for an answer if you feel like something may be wrong. Doctors are people too, and I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt that they’re working based on their knowledge and experience, but sometimes that’s just not enough. You know your body best. When you advocate for yourself and find a doctor who listens and takes action, even if they aren’t concerned themselves, I call that a win. Stay healthy, friends!

Sometimes all you need is a break

It’s been a while since I’ve given an IVF update – but I’m back! Taking a few months off from IVF was truly what I needed. The time off from doctors appointments, injections, medication allergies and other side effects restored my energy and focus. I spent the first few months of my IVF break continuing to focus on my personal health and fitness, while also finishing my personal training certification and making headway toward my new career path. 

By the end of January 2022, I received my personal training certification and began figuring out my next steps to jumpstart this new career adventure. I started increasing my protein intake and I was making headway with my own health and fitness goals as well. I felt better than ever and was not yet ready to return to the world of IVF. I felt like I was slowly feeling like myself again and I needed a little more time before possibly diving back in.

During our break from IVF, we continued tracking my cycle and using ovulation tests to maximize our chances of getting pregnant. We didn’t expect anything to come from this, given the odds of us conceiving without IVF, but there was no reason not to try everything we could! 

On March 3rd, I decided to take a pregnancy test. It was about time for my period to start so I wasn’t even late but for whatever reason I decided to test. We had plenty of pregnancy tests lying around so why not. As I waited for the pregnancy test to show ‘not pregnant,’ I mentally prepared myself. I had seen those words many times before and I knew to expect it. I was ready.

As I looked down and read ‘Pregnant,’ my mouth dropped wide open and I immediately felt shaky. What?! I was floored. I stood there, alone in my bathroom at 7am while Ilan was asleep, looking at the test and then at myself in the mirror. Back and forth. Trying to make sense of what was happening. I didn’t believe it. I stood there for a few minutes and eventually decided to wake Ilan up so that I wasn’t experiencing this alone.

I woke him up with a gentle yet confused sounding, “hey babe… (his head lifts)…I’m pregnant?” His face lit up as he exclaimed, “what?!” and I showed him the positive pregnancy test. We tested a second time to be sure. We sat on the bed for about an hour, I was still mostly just in shock while he was both surprised and ecstatic. Not that I wasn’t happy, but shock really took the lead here for me.

No matter how much time, effort, money and hope that we put into family planning, especially with multiple rounds of IVF, learning that I was actually pregnant – without IVF and after a failed embryo transfer – was shocking. We simply didn’t expect it to happen this way.

My emotions soon shifted to anxiety once I started to process the reality of being pregnant because we were only 3.5 weeks, super early, and we wouldn’t know if it was a viable pregnancy until a month later. Knowing that we had a higher risk of complications due to my egg quality, and I’d already been through the trauma of cancer, my response was more fear-based than anything else. 

We decided not to tell anyone yet, as we didn’t quite believe it ourselves and we didn’t want to have to manage others’ expectations before we knew if it was viable. We wanted our loved ones to be able to feel unadulterated joy and excitement when we told them and did not want to have to dilute that with managed expectations.

So, we waited. And while we waited, we kind of didn’t think about it much ourselves. I think it was our way of protecting ourselves as we truly didn’t expect this to work out in our favor. It’s a little sad, but with how things have gone for us, we were guarded. Miscarriage is quite common, despite how little people talk about it, and we wanted at least some confirmation of a viable pregnancy before getting too excited.

So, after a month had passed, we finally had our first doctor appointment. We were anxious but ready to see how things were going. We started with a transvaginal ultrasound to check the location of the embryo (still technically called an embryo at this stage), yolk sac and heart rate. Good news all around – the embryo was where it should be, the yolk sac looked good and had no indication of potential miscarriage at this point and the heart rate was good! We met with the doctor afterward and all in all, we had a viable pregnancy at this point. Wow. Immediate relief flooded over us. We were one step closer and maybe, just maybe, this would work out! 

We started to feel hopeful and knew that with each passing doctor appointment, we’d likely feel better and better. Our next appointment wouldn’t be for another month, so we decided that this news was good enough for us to finally tell our families. We waited until we were in-person with our families at various points over the following weeks to share the news and it was really special. We made a cute little box for them to open and it was a big hit. Our families are elated to have their first grandchild on the way and we are getting more and more excited as the days go by. I am hopeful that fear will continue to move toward the backseat as the pregnancy progresses and all of our positive emotions continue to move forward.

Thank you for joining us along this journey so far. This was a long time coming and while I don’t plan to turn this into a parenting blog, I will continue to post occasional updates throughout pregnancy until birth, and likely sporadic family updates thereafter – so keep an eye out for those! At whatever point in the future we decide to try for a second child, I’ll definitely continue with blogging that part of our fertility journey too, wherever it may lead. Still rising!

I finally found my place in the gym!

It’s been a journey both pursuing my own personal health and fitness while also working toward making it my new career path. I thought I found my place in my original gym, but that didn’t end up being the case. While I still credit that gym for changing my life and helping me find my path, it turns out that it’s not the right fit for me right now.

Coming to this realization took me by surprise, but I tried to look at it as an opportunity to explore other options in my area. I knew I did not want to work in a big box gym because it’s a competitive environment amongst trainers and you have to sell as a primary part of your job.  While that’s to be expected to an extent, it’s a bit more cut throat and I simply do not feel I would thrive in that type of environment.

Instead of a big box gym, some of my trainer friends recommended that I start with coaching rather than personal training and suggested I look at Orange Theory, F45 and other similar places. I know a lot of people who love that style of training so it was a good idea, in theory.

However, there is a reason that I chose personal training rather than large group coaching. I am an introvert and the thought of being on a microphone, full of energy for classes of 15+ people, for multiple hours a day makes me want to crawl into a dark closet. I don’t think I’d last a week in that environment, honestly.

So, I kept searching. Some places required a certain number of years of experience and others simply weren’t hiring. I was looking for a smaller gym with a mom & pop feel to it where I would feel like I was serving my community. I did not want to feel like just another trainer, another number for an establishment, or a mechanism for more sales. I wanted more than that – and yes, I know I have high expectations!

Not only do I have high expectations for the gym that I work at, but I have high expectations for myself. After researching nearly every facility in my city, I decided that the best way for me to translate my education into practice was to start with an internship. Could I have jumped straight into a job? Absolutely. But I decided that I wanted to learn from other trainers, get hands-on experience and truly learn more about the day-to-day of training before jumping in completely. I want to best serve my clients and for me, that means starting slow and learning from others in-person rather than just from a textbook.

What I learned in the search process is that personal training internships are few and far between. Some even require you to pay for an internship, which is a huge barrier for many, myself included. At this point, I had been unemployed for nearly 10 months and while I knew I was putting off an income for a little bit longer to intern, I simply couldn’t afford to pay anything on top of that. So I kept looking.

It wasn’t easy, but when opportunities are scarce sometimes you need to create your own opportunity with a little help from a friend. My husband’s Hebrew tutor, whom we both know quite well now, works at the local Jewish Community Center (JCC). She simply gave me the Director of Fitness and Wellness’ phone number and email address, and suggested I reach out. If you’re unfamiliar with Jewish Community Centers, they are usually large facilities with gyms, exercise classes, summer camps, cultural programs and more. They provide a place for community and belonging for anyone, Jewish or not. I’d never been a part of one before but it sounded like a great option.

It started with an email introducing myself and asking about internship opportunities and turned into an in-person meeting with the Director of Fitness and Wellness. She did not have any formal internship set up but we got to know each other and she offered to let me shadow her trainers for as long as I’d like. She reached out to her trainers and connected me directly with whomever was interested in letting me shadow them. It was so simple yet so helpful. I worked directly with the trainers to arrange times where I could shadow and learn from them as they trained their clients, and I also shadowed various group classes as well.

It was the most supportive and welcoming environment that I could have imagined. The trainers were all incredibly friendly, knowledgeable and willing to help me in any way. It was not competitive at all and I could feel the sense of community and purpose everywhere I turned. It didn’t matter that I was switching careers and completely new to training while most of them have been training for 10+ years. They treated me with respect, provided encouragement, shared a wealth of knowledge with me and truly wanted me to succeed. Even when I was simply shadowing, they introduced me to clients and staff as a new trainer there. You can’t put a price on that type of environment.

It felt like the perfect fit for me and I’m so grateful that the director felt the same way about me. She gave me as much time as I wanted to shadow and encouraged me to reach out to her when I was ready to do a demo session for her, so she could learn my training style. This past week I went ahead and completed the demo session and now I’m in the paperwork process to formally become a personal trainer at the JCC! I couldn’t be more thrilled to join this team and serve my community. 

I’ve finally found my footing on this new path that I’ve chosen for myself and I’m really proud of myself for pushing through the challenges along the way. It’s been a lot of hard work, dedication, overcoming self-doubt and fear, standing firm in my choices and trusting my gut. I am forever grateful to my patient, loving and supportive husband for believing in me throughout this long process. Still rising!

Honoring Dr. Paul Farmer

It’s taken me a week since the passing of Dr. Paul Farmer, on February 21, 2022, to even begin to compile my thoughts around what a devastating loss his passing is to the global health community. He was a champion for health as a human right, spending his career trying to make that a reality for the poorest of the poor, and had a profound impact in countries such as Haiti and Rwanda through the development of hospitals.

Having spent time in Rwanda myself and experiencing their healthcare system firsthand, I’m incredibly grateful to Dr. Farmer for helping to develop the University of Global Health Equity through Partners in Health and alongside various partners. Pushing forward the development of healthcare in Rwanda, and thus benefiting Africa as a whole, is critical to health becoming a human right.

Not only am I connected to Dr. Paul Farmer’s work through my life in Rwanda but I also worked for Partners in Health, the organization that he co-founded. He has been an inspiration for me and I want to honor him by carrying on his legacy.

One core value that was emphasized throughout my time at Partners in Health was the value of accompaniment. It’s not enough to just provide health care for people but we must walk with them in their journeys, side by side. We have to look at people in a holistic way, and treat them as such. There is so much more to a person than their medical diagnosis. 

I plan to bring the value of accompaniment into my new career as a personal trainer. I will not only create training plans, correct form, discuss nutrition and more but I will listen to my clients. I will learn about them as individuals and meet them where they’re at. I will treat each person with respect and I will help them through their health journey, as a partner in the process. Personal training is a form of preventive healthcare and I also believe in health as a human right. I will keep Dr. Paul Farmer’s values and mission in my mind so that I will be the best personal trainer that I can. 

If you’re not familiar with Dr. Paul Farmer, I recommend reading Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder and watching the documentary Bending the Arc. He lived a truly remarkable life.

Unrealistic expectations often result in disappointment

When I start something new, I’m often excited, eager and full of motivation. I feel like I can do anything and get a burst of adrenaline at the idea of something new. I love change and while it’s not always easy, I always enjoy it more than the status quo. I like challenging myself and pushing myself to try new things. 

I’ll admit though, I often approach this type of a change with a level of naiveté and some unrealistic expectations. I get caught up in the excitement and positive energy and forget to sit myself down and add in a dash of realism. This often leads to disappointment and I’m still learning not to repeat this pattern.

Most recently, this relates most to my diet and exercise routine. Since June, I’ve focused heavily on these areas in my life, really trying to get healthier during IVF for a potential pregnancy. Logically, I knew that the hormone injections were affecting my body in a variety of ways but I still expected certain results. 

I have access to the InBody machine at my gym in order to track my progress, which measures body fat and muscle mass. I’ve been doing this since I first started there in August. Between pumping myself full of hormones and a slight lack of consistency when I wasn’t able to workout during the retrieval process and when I was sick, I knew my results wouldn’t match my expectations. So, before I took my second InBody measurement, I prepared myself for less than stellar quantitative improvements, despite knowing I was helping my body regardless. I was right. There were very minimal improvements in my body fat percentage and muscle mass.

While this was disappointing, I knew there were other factors at play that were equally as important to me. I was moving my body more, eating healthier and trying to start our family, which are all beautiful things. These results did not deter me. Sure, would I have liked to see some more physical changes as a result of all my hard work? Absolutely. But I had to manage my expectations and keep reminding myself of the bigger picture and why I was doing this.

Fast forward to January 26th, 2022. My last hormone injections were in early November and because I got sick, I had to take a break from exercise during that time as well. During December and January though, I was all in. I was taking a break from all the hormones and diving into my health again. I was weight training 3-4 times per week every week, missing maybe three workouts during this two month period. I was eating healthy (90% of the time), taking a whey protein supplement and rarely eating out. I was doing all the right things with as much consistency as I could. 

So, I decided to do another InBody scan to measure my progress. Surely I’d have made some progress in the past two months given that I was on a break from hormones and I was being very consistent with diet and exercise. As I finished my workout and asked the gym director for the results of my scan from earlier, he said that one of the coaches would reach out to me. 

Full of hope, I asked, “Did I at least make some progress?” He pulled up the comparisons and said actually I had lost 1 lb of muscle mass. I’m sorry, what?! This doesn’t make sense to me. He agreed that it seemed like a lot, and clearly trending in the wrong direction, especially since I told him all I had been doing the past two months. 

He recommended that we do another scan two days later on Friday, in case it was a machine error. I felt defeated but agreed in hopes that the numbers would shift. Well, the second scan was even worse. It said I had lost another pound of muscle mass. Whether the Wednesday scan was correct or not, it looks like I’d lost 1-2lbs of muscle mass in the last 2.5 months, despite weight training 3-4 times per week and eating healthy. I was not happy.

There are a couple possibilities of what could have happened though. 

1) I might not have been consuming enough protein as a vegetarian with my current diet. On days that I don’t track, I likely get around 70-80g of protein daily with one protein drink. I had already decided on increasing to two protein drinks daily because I still didn’t think I was getting enough, so I was about to increase my protein intake to around 95-110g daily. Still lower than what I’d like, but honestly it’s the most sustainable with my diet.

2) My hormones could still be regulating after 7 months of IVF and that may be having a longer-than-anticipated impact. My doctors never discussed this specifically, so I truly have no idea if it’s related, but it’s certainly possible. 

3) The most unlikely scenario is that it’s something cancer-related, which is always, unfortunately, in the back of mine and my husband’s minds. We’re not jumping to that though.

I have to say, these results really brought me down for a few days. It’s hard when you’re putting in so much effort but the results aren’t showing. I logically reminded myself all the ways this healthier lifestyle is benefiting me, despite the lack of data showing physical improvements, but it didn’t take the sting away.

Did I let this slow me down though? Absolutely not. I was hopeful that in about a month, with hard work, consistency and a bit more protein, I would start to see the numbers move in the right direction. At the end of the day though, I’m pursuing an intentionally healthy lifestyle for the long haul. I want to be active, strong and healthy for myself and our family. I’m keeping that at the forefront of my mind.

This is the same thing I’d recommend to others. Progress is not always linear – there will be plenty of ups and downs. You won’t always have intrinsic motivation to keep going, but you can stick to your commitment to yourself regardless. I hope to be an example to others by pushing through any disappointments that come along, learning to better manage my expectations and keeping the bigger picture in mind. We’re all still rising!

We can do hard things!

Many aspects of life are hard; it’s just a fact. It’s something that I think everyone learns at different times in their life. We’re not here to compare or judge our hardships. My hard is hard, period. Your hard is hard, period.

Maybe in times of hardship we try to take an easier path, that of less resistance, because we’re exhausted or scared of change. Maybe we push ourselves to choose a hard path because deep down we know it’s best for us. Likely we choose a bit of both throughout our lifetime and sometimes we don’t have a choice at all.

I certainly did not choose cancer and cancer was hard. Cancer survivorship is harder. I did not choose fertility challenges and that is hard. None of us chose this pandemic and wow, this pandemic has been HARD. Life throws us hardships and we do not always have a choice in the matter. We do, however, have a choice in how we react to these hardships. 

I want you to know that you can do hard things. This is something that I often have to remind myself of. You do not always need to stay positive in times of hardship. You can have minutes, hours, days of struggle, self-doubt, sadness, anger and much more. But, please, don’t stay there forever. I know it’s hard. Really hard. But you can do hard things, I promise. 

Listen to your mind and body and honor what they need. Ask for help when you need it. Rest when you need it. Challenge yourself to grow and change when you’re able to. It won’t happen overnight and it will be hard work, but it will also be worth it! Trust in the process, reflect on your progress, celebrate your successes and keep pushing forward. We got this!